Wednesday, July 16, 2014

California Lawsuit Charges StemCells, Inc., with Putting Patients at Risk

A former senior manager at StemCells, Inc., which holds a $19.4 million award from the California stem cell agency, has filed a lawsuit alleging that “deficiencies in the company's cell lines put patients at risk of infection or death during clinical trials.”

The charges were contained in a suit by Rob Williams in Alameda County court, according to an article on Courthouse News Service written by Elizabeth Warmerdam. Williams is suing for wrongful termination, retaliation and violation of the California False Claims Act.

According to the article, the complaint said that StemCells, Inc., of Newark, Ca., says its stem cells are safe for human transplantation.  Warmerdam continued,
“Williams says he was hired as the company's senior manager of manufacturing in December 2013 to oversee its manufacturing facility, where stem cell cultures are cultivated for use in clinical trials.
“'Shortly after beginning his employment, plaintiff noted poor sterile technique, failure to adhere to current Good Manufacturing Practices in the company's manufacturing process, and substantial deficiencies in the company's Manual Aseptic Processing of HuCNS-SC (Human Central Nervous System Stem Cells) cell lines - failure and deficiencies that put patients at risk of infection or death during ongoing clinical trials,’ Williams says.
“Williams claims he also saw manufacturing deviations during cryopreservation of Working Cell Bank lots, leading to numerous stem cell lots with dangerously high numbers of damaged cells.
“'Knowing that these cells were to be injected into human patients, and that the high level of damaged cells and the possibility of contaminating microorganisms could cause serious harm to patients, plaintiff immediately took his concerns to upper management. He also noted that the use of adulterated stem cells lots could skew patient test results, effectively jeopardizing data behind years of clinical trials and research,’ the complaint states."
It was not immediately clear whether Williams’ allegations directly involve the work being funded by the California stem cell agency(see here, here and here), which has been asked for comment on the lawsuit.  The California Stem Cell Report has also asked the publicly traded company for a comment, although the article said the firm did not respond to a query by Courthouse News Service.

 (Late yesterday, the firm said the allegations have no merit. See full text here.)

The lawsuit said that Williams was told to conceal his finding from unspecified reports and that he was suspended shortly thereafter. It said that he sent emails to upper level management about his concerns and that he was fired a few weeks later.

Williams’ Linked In profile said that he has 15 years industry experience, including nearly six years as a senior manager at Alvine Pharmaceuticals and three at Johnson&Johnson.

Williams is seeking unspecified punitive damages from StemCells, Inc.

Courthouse News Service is a Pasadena-based national news service for lawyers and the news media.

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