To the editor:
After reading Brian O'Connell's column in the February 2006 issue of BioPharm International , entitled, "Will Venture Capital Firms Turn Their Backs on Stem-Cell Research?"., one would like to comment. The press is too fascinated by Dr. Hwang's scientific misconduct, which was discovered, and sanctions imposed. It hardly rises to the "scandal" level, except, perhaps, at Fox News. The fact that there have been several proof-of-principle experiments published will mitigate any "skittishness" on the part of cognizant investors. One did attend a recent meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and, relying on one's notes, does not agree that such a "bleak" outlook for funding, as O'Connell reported from Wired News, pertained. Judging from the latest paper by Lanza and his group, his belief in the ultimate efficacy and profitability of stem-cell research does not seem to be significantly diminished.
O'connell cites a commentary in Nature . One must note that, apparently, O'Connell has neither read the complete content nor transcribed Table 1 correctly. In fact, 33% of the respondents admitted to at least one of 10 behaviors (out of total of 16, including three "that may be best classified as carelessness.") This is hardly "admitting to fraudulent research behavior." Further, O'Connell quotes a figure of "three percent," when the actual number is 0.3 percent—a difference by a factor of 10.One is nonplussed by the phrase, "lack of quantifiable research available." One wonder if the author refers to investment return for the venture capitalists or to results of stem cell research therapy. For the latter, one can provide multiple references in the discipline of cardiac disease alone. For the former, one directs the author to the appropriate spreadsheet.
Clark D. Hinderleider, M.D., Ph.D.
The author replies:
While Dr. Hinderleider is correct in pointing out that minimal fraudulent research behavior does not rise to the level of chronic fraudulence, it still qualifies as behavior that will call in to question issues of scientific competence and motives. I certainly understand where Dr. Hinderleider, an experienced medical professional, is coming from. But from the point of view of venture capitalists or Wall Street investors, the Nature study raises troubling issues, particularly in the aftermath of the Hwang scandal. Investors don't understand the scientific issues—they're too complex—and they leave those issues to the scientists. But, as the Hwang incident demonstrates, investors won't seed a new venture if they suspect a scintilla of fraud.
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