StemCells, Inc., Sued by Former Employee Who Says Their Stem Cell Treatment is Unsafe


A California stem cell company, StemCells, Inc., that is developing cell-based therapies for several different neurological and eye conditions, is being sued by a former employee (whistleblower) who claims that the company did not follow proper protocols in the preparation of their treatments. Rob Williams, who was once a senior manager at StemCells, Inc., has alleged that the company fired him after he brought these problems to the attention of senior management.

According to the Courthouse New Service, Williams in the lawsuit stated that he “noted poor sterile technique, failure to adhere to current Good Manufacturing Practices in the company’s manufacturing process, and substantial deficiencies in the company’s Manual Aseptic Processing of HuCNS-SC (Human Central Nervous System Stem Cells) cell lines—failure and deficiencies that put patients at risk of infection or death during ongoing clinical trials.”

Ken Stratton, who serves as the general counsel for StemCells, Inc., has told the California Stem Cell Report that Williams’s employment “was terminated for performance deficiencies, and [the company] finds no merit to the allegations.” Stratton also said that “the elements of manufacturing practices that concerned Mr. Williams were immediately and carefully reviewed by the company.”

It might be worth noting that this lawsuit coincides with the departure this past April or May of StemCells, Inc.’s Executive VP of Manufacturing Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Stewart Craig, who took a position at Sangamo Biosciences.

Unfortunately for StemCells, Inc., this particular lawsuit comes soon after a second bit of bad press. Embryologist Alan Trounson led the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) until June of this year, but has joined the board of StemCells, Inc., shortly after leaving the state stem cell research funding agency. According to an opinion article written by Ron Leuty, who is a reporter for the San Francisco Business Times, Trounson has recused himself from discussions regarding a loan StemCells, Inc., received from CIRM in 2012 because of his close relationship with the company’s founder. “But the speed of his appointment to the StemCells board has raised questions” about a possible conflict of interest, Leuty wrote.

CIRM has been marred by conflicts of interest accusations since California voters in 2004 birthed CIRM through Proposition 71 and the subsequent sale of $3 billion in state bonds. Now it has one more strike against it.

Leuty called the situation an embarrassment for CIRM. “If the public perceives that individuals—researchers or CIRM employees or company executives—are feeding at the trough of the semiautonomous public agency, it isn’t going to help CIRM get more cash from that very same public that foots the bill.”

Phase 2 Clinical Trial that Tests Stem Cell Treatment for Heart Attack Patients to be Funded by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine


A new stem cell therapy that treats heart attack patients with cells from a donor has been approved to begin a Phase 2 clinical trial.

Capricor Therapeutics Inc. a regenerative medicine company, has developed this treatment, which extracts donor stem cells from the heart called “cardiosphere-derived cells,” and then infuses them into the heart of the heart attack patient by means of a heart catheter procedure, which is quite safe. These stem cells are introduced into the heart to reduce scarring in the heart and potentially replace dead heart muscle cells. One clinical trial called the CADUCEUS trial has already shown that cardiosphere-derived cells can reduce the size of the heart scar.

In a previous phase I study (phase I studies typically only ascertain the safety of a treatment), cardiosphere-derived cells were infused into the hearts of 14 heart attack patients. No major safety issues were observed with these treatments, and therefore, phase 2 studies were warranted.

Alan Trounson, Ph.D., president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which is funding the trial, said this about the phase 2 trial approval: “This is really encouraging news and marks a potential milestone for the use of stem cells to treat heart disease. Funding this type of work is precisely what our Disease Team Awards were designed to do, to give promising treatments up to $20 million dollars to develop new treatments for some of the deadliest diseases in America.”

Capricor was given approval by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Gene and Cell Therapy (GST) to move into the next phase of clinical trials after these regulatory bodies had thoroughly reviewed the safety data from the phase 1 study. After NHLBI and GST determined that the phase 1 study met all the required goals, CIRM also independently reviewed the safety data from the Phase 1 and other aspects of the Phase 2 clinical trial design and operations. Upon successful completion of the independent review, Capricor was given approval to move forward into the CIRM-funded Phase 2 component of the study

Capricor CEO Linda Marbán, Ph.D., said, “Meeting the safety endpoints in the Phase 1 portion of the trial is a giant leap forward for the field and for Capricor Therapeutics. By moving into the Phase 2 portion of this trial, we can now attempt to replicate the results in a larger population.”

For the next phase, an estimated 300 patients who have had heart attacks will be evaluated in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. One group of heart-attack patients will include people 30 to 90 days following the heart attack, and a second group will follow patients 91 days to one year after the incident. Other patients will receive placebos and neither the patients nor the treating physicians know who will receive what.  This clinical trial should definitely determine if an “off-the-shelf” stem cell product can improve the function of a heart attack patient’s heart.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is funding this clinical trial, and for this CIRM should be lauded.  However, when CIRM was brought into existence through the passage of proposition 71, it sold itself as a state-funded entity that would deliver embryonic stem cell-based cures.  Now I know that director Alan Trounson has denied that, but Wesley Smith at the National Review “Human Exceptionalism” blog and the LA times blogger Michael Hiltzik have both documented that Trounson and others said exactly that.  Isn’t ironic that one of the promises intimated by means of embryo-destroying research is now being fulfilled by means of non-embryo-destroying procedures?  If taxpayer money is going to fund research like this, then I’m all for it, but CIRM has to first clean up its administrative act before they deserve a another penny of taxpayer money.