Conflicts at Calif. stem cell agency

Advocacy groups are calling for resignations from the board chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and another CIRM board member in the wake of a violation of the institute's own conflict of interest rules. Meanwhile, California's state controller, John Chiang, has asked the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate the allegations while his office conducts a financial audit of CIRM. The conflict of interest occurred in August, when John Reed, a

Dec 6, 2007
Bob Grant
Advocacy groups are calling for resignations from the board chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and another CIRM board member in the wake of a violation of the institute's own conflict of interest rules. Meanwhile, California's state controller, John Chiang, has asked the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate the allegations while his office conducts a financial audit of CIRM. The conflict of interest occurred in August, when John Reed, a member of the CIRM's governing board, wrote a linkurl:letter;http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/BIMRLetter.pdf to linkurl:Arlene Chiu,;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53676/ then CIRM's chief scientific officer, opposing the denial of a CIRM grant to a researcher at the San Diego-area Burnham Institute for Medical Research. Reed, who is president and CEO of the Burnham Institute, wrote the seven page letter lobbying CIRM to reconsider its linkurl:denial;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53548/ of a $638,000 SEED grant to David Smotrich, a researcher affiliated with the Burnham Institute but also the founder and president of a San Diego-area infertility clinic. CIRM initially approved the grant, but later rejected the proposal based on the institute's rule that only full-time employees may receive state grants. CIRM's conflict of interest rules prohibit board members from participating in any grant award discussions that involve their home institutions. The letter was uncovered last month through a request for public documents made by David Jensen, author of the blog linkurl:California Stem Cell Report.;http://californiastemcellreport.blogspot.com/ In the letter Reed asserts that though Smotrich is not technically a full-time faculty member at Burnham, he participates in institute activities and accesses institute resources as if he were. Reed asks in the letter that CIRM "recognize the validity of Dr. Smotrich as a faculty member of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, and to award the SEED grant that he rightfully deserves." Reed goes on to write, "I also wish to emphasize the potentially damaging consequences that a decision not to recognize Dr. Smotrich's legitimacy as a faculty member may have on clinician investigators, as it will surely discourage clinical researchers from participating in the CIRM mission to advance stem cell therapies." Robert Klein, the chairman of CIRM's governing board - the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) - has admitted that he linkurl:advised;http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/22/BAPRTGU8P.DTL Reed to write the letter to clarify Smotrich's level of involvement at the Burnham Institute. "I told him to send them a letter to tell them what the correct facts were," Klein told the __San Francisco Chronicle__ last month. "I clearly did that." In a statement Emailed to __The Scientist__ today (Dec. 6), Reed wrote: "Because the ICOC had already made the decision to award the grant, it did not occur to me that conflict rules would prevent me from contacting staff to provide what I believed to be relevant information. I now understand that the conflict rules apply to the post-grant review process and I have not engaged in any further communications with CIRM regarding the Burnham grant." John Simpson, stem cell project director at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, has called for both men to resign as has Jesse Reynolds, director of the Project on Biotechnology in the Public Interest at the Center for Genetics and Society. Simpson and Reynolds are both long-time critics of CIRM. California newspaper, __The Sacramento Bee__, published an linkurl:editorial;http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/515572.html last week suggesting that Klein step down. Simpson lodged a formal complaint with California's Fair Political Practices Commission last month regarding the conflict, and the commission is set to respond by Dec. 10. Commission spokesperson Roman Porter said that the commission will either move forward with an investigation of the incident, choose not to pursue an investigation, or ask for more time to consider the complaint.