Sunday, 26 August 2012

Who is the real Doug Sipp?

Doug Sipp's blog has viciously attacked any physician using stem cells. While a few of his attacks have been against real bad actors, many have also been against physicians trying to do legitimate work. He's also attacked groups of sick patients who want access to this care. Why?

To understand Sipp and his blog, we need to digress back into his history. Doug is an American who has lived in Japan since the early 1990s. When Doug first arrived in Japan after college, he worked on "patient simulation software". He then worked as a freelance translator at the Nature Network. It's interesting that neither job was academic in any way, nor did either qualify him as being an expert bioethics or policy issues on stem cells.

He has commented on his tenure as a science translator. In one 2005 article, he boasts that translating science articles can be lucrative:

"Pay Translation can be a lucrative business or sideline in Japan, which offers some of the best per-word rates in the world. Fees for technical translations from Japanese into English range from ¥3000 to ¥6000 per page (US$23 to $46); English to Japanese translations pay a little less. An experienced translator working with familiar subject matter can earn in excess of ¥10,000 (US$77) per hour, but few people are able to maintain that pace for a full 8-hour workday."

That's more than 140K USD a year! (or 88,500 pounds)! So we know Doug had a smattering of first jobs after a four year college degree and was making some serious cash translating science articles.

He states in his profile on the Nature Network that he now manages communications for a research institution in Kobe Japan. What is that research institution? The Riken Centre is a large and often entrepreneurial group of different labs scattered across Japan. 

While Riken seems like a credible place that does legitimate science, it has also done some nutso things in recent years. They have recently been in the news for trying to clone woolly mammoths. This is despite Japan's neighbour south Korea being infamous for serious ethical issues cloning dogs and cats. In fact, a science daily news site reported that Riken had taken "one giant leap for mankind" by reviving...wait for it...a dead rat!

The Riken Zombie Rat...
So is Riken merely a government research institution with no financial incentives? Not really. This on-line page explains how centers like Riken can cash in on bio-tech. Nature has described how Riken works with pharma companies to license their valuable patents. This page at the Riken Centre web-site explains more about how Doug's bosses in the life sciences area monetise their science. While their work is supposedly funded by the government, as one example, if you use Riken's cell clones to find something that leads to a patent, like the Yakuza, the center wants it's cut! In fact RIKEN filed a total of 998 patents in fiscal year 2008-2009. RIKEN has even set up a program it calls a "Baton Zone" that it explains as:

"Integrated Collaborative Research Program with Industry
Projects on topics proposed by private industry are undertaken at RIKEN to integrate the two parties’ expertise. An ad hoc collaborative research team, headed by an expert sent from the company, is formed to construct a technology platform and to realize prompt commercialization of research outcomes."

Riken-We want our "Vig"...
What's interesting is that Sipp's bosses at Riken have created an entire centre to commercialise patients (read turn them into cold hard cash). The tag line says it all, "Managing technology to create value". 

The web-site claims that "The RIKEN Venture system enables researchers to put their own world-class scientific achievements to commercial use". Read, "big pay day for scientists"... Heck, RIKEN will even give you office space in their buildings! How many companies have taken advantage of this program? 24 and counting... 

That company list is interesting in that the most prolific area of university-private payola guessed it-Biology! 

Now is this characterisation of the Riken center and Doug's bosses fair and balanced? Maybe not, yet Doug has never been fair and balanced. What is fascinating, is that despite friendly news organisations noting that Doug's work is nasty...

CE: Well, now that you mention “rhetorical license,” let me ask you something else.  You don’t exactly mince words on the blog.  

...Doug's employers seem to turn a blind eye. In fact, there's every indication that his employers love his hate speech. While he started out as a communications director, after he began viciously and often unfairly attacking stem cell clinics and sick patients that were competitive to the interests of the his bosses patents on iPS cells, he got a promotion to the director of bioethics and policy for that unit. Funny thing, he knows nothing about bioethics! He has a four year degree and did not major in bioethics. He holds no masters degree nor doctorate in the field. Frankly, it's unlikely that he would qualify as a graduate student in bioethics, let alone a director of bioethics!

More on Doug's Bosses and why they would support his hate speech...

[I want to thank an anonymous reader of the blog for some of this information]. As discussed, Sipp works at a research center that uses competitive technologies to the adult stem cell clinics he bashes. In fact, the Riken Center is involved in the MEXT iPS cell research network which focuses on the distribution of iPS cells as well as patenting and licensing of intellectual property (iPS cells)

iPS cells are a very popular topic in Wall Street biotech plays as unlike adult stem cells; they can be patented like a drug chemical (as they don’t exist in nature) and mass produced in bioreactors for mass distribution like a drug. If iPS cells become a clinical reality, these Riken patents would be worth a fortune to the bio-pharma industry and this centre. So what could possibly threaten the commercialisation of the science breakthrough known as iPS cells? Safer adult autologous stem cells being used by physicians as transplant surgeries instead of drugs. After all, why would a doctor use very expensive iPS cells provided by a pharma company through a Riken license if cheaper stem cells from the patient's own body would work as well?

While Sip has done a great job concealing his true intentions from the press, this talk that he gave in London in 2010 really says it all:

"Appearing: Congress Day 3 Thursday 13 May 2010 - AFTERNOON PLENARY SESSION 4:20 PM

Overcoming the threat to legitimate business: medical tourism and the stem cell industry"

Who are the “legitimate” business interests? Doug's bosses of course! If the Riken centre has no financial skin in that game, why is it filing for about 1,000 patents a year and licensing them to private industry? (see US 2010/0167398 A1 and US 2011/0091869 A1). If its interests are the pure pursuit of knowledge, why file for a patent at all? 

We can even drill the cells for profit scam right down to the scientists in Doug's unit. For example, why is the director of the group where Mr. Sipp works on the scientific advisory board for iPS Academia Japan, Inc?

What is iPS Academia Japan? It’s a for profit business entity devoted to cashing in on the discovery of iPS cells. This is from their web-site:

"Our main task is to manage the patents and other intellectual property relating to iPS cell technology, and grant the license to entities under such patents and intellectual property to use the technology in healthcare and pharmaceutical research as well as in drug discovery and to commercialize the iPS cell-related business."

In summary, who is Doug Sipp? I live in the UK and in this part of the world we have an ancient custom of "sin eaters". The general idea is that some poor bloke is hired at a funeral to "eat" (read internalise) the sins of the dead so that the deceased can more easily make it to heaven. This concept has now also been generalised to mean someone who does the nastiness to keep others pure.

I view Doug as a "sin eater"The recent movie, "The Borne Legacy" explains it well. After just being given and carrying out an order to do something heinous and horrible against civilians, the main character, a military operative/assassin, gets a pep talk from his boss:

“We are the sin eaters. It means that we take the moral excrement that we find in this equation and we bury it down deep inside of us so that the rest of our cause can stay pure. That is the job. We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary. You understand?”

Doug and his bosses consider Doug to be morally indefensible and absolutely necessary and he is assigned the dirty work so that their cause can appear to be scientifically pure, even if what they are actually doing is harming patients by limiting choices and access.