Conflict of Interests Haunt Weissman, NAS, Bioethics and California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Dianne N. Irving
July 9, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

As physician Irving Weissman, progenitor of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), continues to scare audiences around the world with his Russian "ghost" stories, attention is successfully diverted from the "regulatory" crisis facing his CIRM: a multitude of conflict of interests. [See Weissman, "The Ghost of Lysenko: Biologist Irving Weissman warns of the cost of irrational restrictions" (Scientific, June 27, 2005), at:, and Peter Johnson, "Stanford scientist tells McLaughlin gathering stem cell research restrictions should be lifted" (Great Falls Tribune On-line, July 1, 2005), at:

A recent press release from the CIRM confirms this successful diversion ( The press release is addressed to several "working groups" and committees within the CIRM concerned with determining what "standards" will be put in place and used to guide and regulate their decisions about the use of human embryonic stem cells (which include those derived from cloned human embryos!) in research. Among those addressed are members of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee. Not unexpectedly, their "choice" for such critical guidance will be delivered by the "guidelines" recently proposed by the National Academy of Sciences:

TO: Scientific and Medical Accountability Standards Working Group -- five patient advocates of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC), nine scientists and clinicians nationally recognized in the field of stem cell research, four medical ethicists, and the chairperson of the ICOC

RE: The Standards Working Group will consider its charge and meeting procedures. The members will begin the public process of creating permanent standards for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The Guidelines for Embryonic Stem Cell Research, published by the National Academy of Sciences in April, were adopted by ICOC as interim standards for the CIRM on May 23rd. (emphases added)

CIRM is going to use the "guidelines" recently concocted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to direct and regulate human embryonic stem cell research in the State of California? How "independent" and what kind of "oversight" is that? Are they that oblivious to the massive conflict of interests embedded in those infamous "guidelines"? As Milloy of Junk Science so graphically put it when these NAS guidelines were first published: "Enron and Arthur Andersen have nothing over the National Academy of Sciences when it comes to deceiving the public." [Milloy's very informative article, detailing some of their inherent conflict of interests, is copied in full below.]

And the conflicts of interests don't stop there. Weissman's "science" is mind bogglingly absurd [see Irving, "What Human Embryo? Funniest Mental Gymnastics from Medicine and Research" (Oct. 14, 2004), at: Yet as chairman of two influential NAS committees (on human cloning, and on human embryonic stem cell research) he managed to buffalo its members into incorporating his junk science into their two NAS Reports. I guess no questions were asked.

Then there was the original NAS Working Group formed to first consider "guidelines" for human embryonic stem cell research (, featuring not only Weissman and other scientists with vested interests in this research, but also some of the most trenchant Founders of bioethics - e.g., LeRoy Walters, Alto Charo, Jonathan Moreno, Ruth Faden, Dan Brock, Cynthia Cohen, Laurie Zoloth, Bruce Jennings, and Norman Fost -- not to mention the Mother of the British Pre-Embryo, biologist Anne McLaren - all of whom have made lucrative professions out of propagating the scientifically fake term "pre-embryo" or its multitudinous "substitutes"! I guess there wasn't much more that Kass and Hurlbut could do but to look on.

(emphases added),2933,43880,00.html

January 25, 2002


Stem Cell Panel Has Vested Interest in Research

By Steven Milloy

Enron and Arthur Andersen have nothing over the National Academy of Sciences when it comes to deceiving the public.

An NAS panel opined last week that human reproductive cloning should be banned, but that cloning for medical research purposes \ euphemistically termed "creation of embryonic stems cells by nuclear transplantation" \ should be allowed.

The NAS' recommendations were trumpeted by major media such as The Washington Post and The New York Times in front-page stories coupled with sycophantic editorials.

But these illustrious media outlets failed to report information that would have exposed the NAS' recommendations as the best pre-determined conclusions taxpayer money can buy. Giving a free pass to skullduggery that could rival Enron's, the media never mentioned that the scientists on the panel were known proponents of stem cell study with vested financial and/or professional interest in the continued funding of that research.

Taxpayer-funded medical research is big business. Billions of dollars pour into the National Institutes of Health every year; entrepreneurial researchers often then turn the fruits of this taxpayer-funded research into lucrative private businesses.

Last August, President Bush threatened growth prospects for an emerging sector of this business.

Weighing the morality of human embryo destruction against the potential of medical research, the president limited the flow of taxpayer dollars to embryonic stem cell research -- hyped as possibly leading to cures for many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.

The president's action disappointed stem cell researchers who so far have relied on monies raised in the capital markets. This funding is insufficient and may eventually disappear as investors realize that financial returns from stem cell research might be decades away if they come at all.

Enter Bruce Alberts, the Wizard of Oz-like president of the NAS.

The politically savvy Alberts fancies that taxpayer spigots can be opened by pressuring Bush. What better way to do this than through widely publicized recommendations from the NAS, an elite organization whose elected members represent the cream of the crop of U.S. scientists?

On his own initiative, Alberts put together a special panel, stacked with embryonic stem cell research proponents and researchers already on the taxpayer dole.

Alberts deserves an "Ig Nobel" Prize for picking Stanford University's Irving Weissman as panel chairman.

Weissman has received 131 research grants courtesy of taxpayers, including 22 for stem cell research. The grants pale in comparison to the real fruits of his research.

Weissman co-founded Systemix Inc., a 1990s stem cell research company. Systemix sold for $468 million, netting Weissman a cool $20 million -- even though the company failed to deliver on expected cancer and AIDS therapies. Weissman then co-founded StemCells Inc., currently with a market value of about $80 million.

Taxpayers and stem cells have been very good to Irving.

Weissman isn't the only panel member predisposed to taxpayer-funded research and its exploitation.

The 11 members of the NAS panel have garnered 596 grants from taxpayers altogether. Three other panel members are officers in professional societies affiliated with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology -- a group lobbying for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Breast-feeding off taxpayers is as natural to the NAS panel members as breathing.

But there's more.

Panel member David Galas (8 grants) has interests in two biotech companies, Chiroscience R&D Inc. and Blue Heron Biotechnology Co. Panel member Gerald Rubin (71 grants) co-founded Exelixis Inc., a genomic research company worth $694 million. Even the NAS member overseeing the panel's work, Maxine Singer, is a director of Perlegen Sciences Inc., a genomics company that just raised $100 million.

Was there any chance this panel would recommend against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research? Not if Alberts could help it.

Were these conflicts fully and frankly disclosed by the NAS? No.

There are passing mentions on the NAS Web site of Weissman's links with Systemix and StemCells and Galas' link with Chiroscience. But panel members' grant histories, other corporate links and financial information, and FASEB connections were omitted. And, of course, no mention of these conflicts appeared in media coverage.

Last summer, when the panel was formed, the National Journal asked about omitted disclosures from the NAS Web site. NAS Executive Officer E. William Colglazier offered an Enron-ish explanation: "It is up to our discretion to decide what we put in the bios," he said.

Alberts stated at a press conference that the NAS undertook the report "because we believe the nation needs a clear, unbiased scientific examination of proposals for human reproductive cloning." He then introduced Weissman merely as a "professor of cancer biology, pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University School of Medicine."

I guess "taxpayer-made stem cell tycoon" would have made the audience howl with laughter.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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