By DAVID JENSEN – September 1, 2016
The former president of the $3 billion California stem cell agency received $443,500 in total compensation from the Bay Area stem cell company that appointed him to its board of directors only seven days after he left his state post.
The stock and cash were provided over a two-year period to Alan Trounson by Newark-based StemCells Inc., a firm that was awarded more than $40 million in funding while Trounson headed the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as the state stem cell agency is formally known.
In 2014, when Trounson served less than six months on the StemCells Inc. board, his total compensation was more than double that of any other board member.
The surprise appointment of Trounson almost immediately after he left CIRM in 2014 generated allegations of conflict of interest. The size of Trounson’s total compensation, however, was not available at that time.
Conflict-of-interest allegations have dogged the agency since it was created in 2004 by California voters to use state bond proceeds to finance stem cell research.
In 2008, the respected scientific journal Nature warned about “cronyism” at the agency. In 2012, the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, recommended in a $700,000 study commissioned by CIRM that the stem cell agency make sweeping changes to reduce the possibility of such conflicts.
Speaking about the agency’s board, Harold Shapiro, chairman of the Institute of Medicine team, told the Los Angeles Times, “They make proposals to themselves, essentially, regarding what should be funded.”
The agency made some changes to deal with conflict questions but resisted the institute’s far-reaching proposals.
The latest news prompted John Simpson, who has followed the stem cell agency for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, to say in an email, “Trounson’s joining the StemCells Inc. board a mere seven days after quitting as CIRM’s president at the time smacked of being a payback for a job well done on behalf of the company when he should have been looking out for the taxpayers’ money and interests. It was a blatant conflict that undermined the agency’s credibility. Now we know his price tag.”
In 2014, the stem cell agency said its “limited” investigation showed that no violation of law occurred. At the time, CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas described the issue as a “perception” problem.