Stem cell agency tightens ethics rules

Posted: July 24, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Stem cell agency President C. Randal Mills (left) and Chairman of the Board Jonathan Thomas.

Responding to his predecessor's ethically controversial departure, the president and chief executive of California's stem cell agency said Thursday he is taking legal steps to minimize conflicts of interests with those who have business before the agency.

C. Randal Mills said he will not take a job with any company funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for one year after he departs the agency. In addition, he also will not accept gifts or travel payments from any company, institution or person who gets agency funding.

Mills' action, announced at the agency's meeting in Millbrae, will be enforced with a legal agreement he will sign. His action comes less than a month after he replaced Alan Trounson as the agency chief. One week after his departure, CIRM-funded StemCells Inc. announced it had appointed Trounson to its board. StemCells Inc. had received an award of nearly $20 million from the agency to develop a therapy for Alzheimers disease.

While Trounson's appointment wasn't illegal, critics said it was unseemly for him to join a company that had received agency funding so soon after he left CIRM. An ethical controversy could harm the agency's chances of getting more funding from California voters, who gave the agency $3 billion with the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004.

Mills said the new rules apply only to himself, because of his central role at CIRM.

"This specifically addresses an issue where an individual in an organization has a disproportionate amount of power, and I want to make sure it's known that power will not be abused," Mills said.

Mills made the right decision, said Jeanne Loring, a CIRM-funded stem cell researcher at The Scripps Research Institute.

"There's a difference between what is legal and what is ethical," said Loring, who attended the meeting. "And he's going to be pushing the needle a lot more toward the ethical side without worrying whether he can get away with stuff."

John Simpson of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, who has often criticized CIRM for conflicts of interest, also praised the decision.

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Stem cell agency tightens ethics rules

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