Tuesday, July 15, 2014

San Francisco Business Times: California's Trounson Affair Damages Likelihood of Future Stem Cell Funding

The San Francisco Business Times yesterday said the Trounson Affair is the “latest embarrassment” for the $3 billion California stem cell agency and threatens its attempts at securing additional funding.

In an opinion piece, reporter Ron Leuty wrote,
“California's stem cell research funding agency needs a home run to score more public funding. Instead, a conflict-of-interest problem is giving it the wrong kind of attention.”
Leuty was referring to the appointment of Alan Trounson, the former president of the agency, to the board of StemCells, Inc., of Newark, Ca., which holds a $19.4 million award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known. The appointment came just seven days after Trounson left the agency.

Randy Mills, the new president of the agency, has ordered a full review of agency activities involving the publicly traded StemCells, Inc. Agency employees have been barred from discussing StemCells, Inc., matters with Trounson.

Trounson and the company gave no notice to the agency about the pending appointment. Leuty wrote, 
“He apparently never discussed the move, CIRM spokesman Kevin McCormack said, even as an agency attorney briefed him before his departure on what he could and could not do after leaving CIRM.”
Leuty continued,
“CIRM spokesman McCormack said Trounson's decision ‘had nothing to do with us. The conflict wasn't started by us.’ 
“That may indeed be the case, but religious and financial opponents of CIRM won't let voters see it that way. Despite the progress of various research programs but CIRM grant winners, that combination may force the Democratic Party and Gov. Jerry Brown not to support a 2016 ballot measure to re-fund the agency. 
“The Trounson Affair is yet another strike that deepens a perception problem that threatens to distract voters from the win CIRM desperately needs.”
The Business Times story comes as StemCells, Inc., this morning announced it planned to raise $20 million by selling more than 11 million shares to two "well-recognized biotechnology investors." The company's stock price dropped nearly 8 percent in trading this morning and stood at $1.86 at about 7:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The share price was at $2.31 last Monday when Trounson's appointment was announced.

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