One of the Leading Scientists in the World?

Posted by Pete Shanks on March 15th, 2010

Robert Lanza

Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) is not short of self-confidence. His magnum opus (written with Bob Berman) is called Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, which he modestly describes it as "a new book that lays out his theory of everything." He's no stranger to puffery and he's recently been described as a "rock star scientist" who bolsters the reputation of ACT. But he may just need all the self-assurance he can muster.

The company, which is routinely described as "struggling," has been notorious for years for "science by press release." So when Lanza and others published a paper in February comparing iPS unfavorably with embryonic stem cells, it was not surprising that ACT boasted that the research was "featured in several leading news media outlets: Scientific American, USA Today and Newsweek." What Lanza told Scientific American, however, was extremely pessimistic:

"We were devastated to find this out," Lanza adds. He notes his company had planned this year to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use red blood cells and platelets derived from iPS cells in clinical trials, but "at this point, therapies with these cells are years off."

Why would Lanza say they were "devastated" when the company's line was that the paper was "supporting the use of ACTís embryo-safe single blastomere-derived human embryonic stem cell lines, which do not exhibit these problems"? ACT's official position is understandable -- they have intellectual property in ESCs to protect -- but Lanza's is a little surprising. He has previously both praised iPS technology as potentially "one of the Holy Grails of medicine" and highlighted their potential ethical shortcomings. Could it be that he was hoping to jump in front of the iPS bandwagon, perhaps even leaving ACT behind? Or might he have been disingenuous?

Is this the end of ACT? Not so fast. The company's stock price may be trading perilously close to zero, down from $8 a few years ago, but it keeps raising money -- another $2.8 million in November. And two recent government decisions have given them new hope: The NIH proposed in February to expand its definition of human ESCs to include cell lines derived from blastomeres, a move widely seen as benefiting ACT in particular; and in March, the FDA "granted orphan drug designation for the company's MA09-hRPE cells for use in the treatment of Stargardt's Macular Dystrophy (SMD)." That led CEO William Caldwell (who just negotiated himself a base salary of $480,000, with a retention bonus of $100,000) to assert to Bloomberg Radio [mp3 here] that they will eventually also treat the age-related macular degeneration that affects 10 million Americans -- and make big bucks.

So what's going on? It's hard to tell, but a lot may depend on Lanza, whose reputation is squarely on the line. He has pushed his qualifications hard, claiming to be "considered one of the leading scientists in the world" in his bio at the Huffington Post, which opens with this diffident assessment:

"Robert Lanza was taken under the wing of scientific giants such as psychologist B.F. Skinner, immunologist Jonas Salk, and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. His mentors described him as a 'genius,' a 'renegade thinker,' even likening him to Einstein himself." - US News & World Report, cover story.

The "cover story" was not on the man himself, but rather part of ACT's extraordinary publicity coup in 2001, when they claimed to have cloned a human embryo, though it failed to develop beyond the six-cell stage. The news of "this ludicrous, outrageous, failed experiment" was published in an obscure on-line journal (from which three board members resigned as a result, one saying it was "of little or no scientific value"), simultaneously with a feature Lanza and colleagues themselves wrote in Scientific American and the US News & World Report story.

Biocentrism may have been intended as Lanza's ticket out of ACT, as well as being the final formulation of ideas he has been mulling for two decades. But it doesn't seem to have worked. His ideas were ridiculed in 1992 and called "kind of dopey" in Wired in 2007, when he published an article in American Scholar, but he finished the book and promoted it with blog posts and articles, some co-written with Deepak Chopra. More ridicule and debunking followed, and the publisher's press page is notably short on serious reviews, though it lists some rather strange references.

Lanza's genuine science is sometimes obscured by his promotional efforts. If he can pull off what ACT is promising, he really will have a claim to be a world-class scientist. So far however, skepticism seems to be in order.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in Biotech & Pharma, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, Stem Cell Research, US Federal


Add a Comment
  1. Comment by Dick Benson-Gyles, Jul 30th, 2013 8:04am

    I live in England where denigration of people at the cutting edge of their chosen field who have the courage to place their ground-breaking theories in the public domain has become almost an art-form. Now I see that Americans are doing the same thing. This exceptionally poorly-reasoned attack on Robert Lanza would be hilarious, if it weren't so appalling and so appallingly badly argued.
    The current scientific establishment, led by the likes of Richard Dawkins et al, has hijacked science in the most unscientific way. It is now the prisoner of reductionism and materialism. Any suggestion that its interpretation of 'life, the universe and everything' is based on false premises -- as Lanza powerfully argues -- is met with furious retrenchment, anger, ridicule and that old chestnust, argumentum ad hominem. If materialism is disproved, which looks on the cards, then the careers of these reactionary reductionists will fall apart. Their reputations, careers, livelihoods, even their lives, depend on their maintaining the scientific status quo. It was ever thus. Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno were long ago victims of the fear and repressive reaction of the establishment of their day.
    It amuses me that science, an academic discipline which prides itself on its objectivity, giving short shrift to the subjective and claiming to accept only results proven by repeatable experimental research and rigorous empirical analysis, becomes suddenly hysterically subjective and defensive when its pet theories and views are robustly challenged by people like Lanza. The scientific establishment, like gentlemen's clubs of old, abhors change. 'No, no, no', they comment, 'we mustn't upset the applecart'. They then create a paradigm which they set in stone and thenceforward decree that any revolutionary new advances must fit into this 'proven' paradigm. But, gentlemen, nothing is immune from change. Everything moves on. Newtonian physics was superseded by Einstein, who in turn has had largely to give way to quantum physics, and now the dazzling, daring theories put forward by the likes of Robert Lanza are about to take centre-stage.
    I agree with Lanza - a brave man, by the way -- that a 'theory of everything' based on materialism will never be found. These scientists (they hardly deserve that appellation), who oppose him and his equally courageous fellow-travelling pioneers, are characterised by one central characteristic -- a wholly unscientific methodology. They are guilty of the very sin with which they charge their opponents, namely entrenched subjectivity ! They should have a long, hard, unbiased look at quantum physics instead of dismissing it with such self-deceiving remarks as 'O, well, it works and that's all we need to know'. In fact, the implications for the world and humanity of the continuing discoveries in quantum physics are profound -- as, incidentally, is the meaning of consciousness -- another thorn in the side of the current scientific establishment. They hope, pray, that it will eventually be proven to be an epiphenomenon of the brain. I have a strong conviction that their hopes and prayers will be in vain.
    It might do these reductionists some good to ponder a saying of Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, try to consider it possible that you might be in error".
    So, here's to you, Robert Lanza. Carry on triumphant. Most open-minded, free-thinking, adventurous people with a true interest in true science, who welcome indisputable scientific advances even when they demand the abandonment of previously cherished assumptions, are with you all the way!

    Dick Benson-Gyles.

  2. Comment by yiou, May 5th, 2011 10:13am

    it is a great article

  3. Comment by teresa, May 19th, 2010 9:50pm

    Bravo to all who took the time to correct Pete. I have been diagnosed with Stargardt's for 23 long yrs. Unless you have or are close to someone with a disability it is truly hard to imagine the hardships that come along with a disability. To condemn a truly remarkable human being such as Dr. Llanza is truly reprehensible. When I was first diagnosed the Opthamologist told me they didn't expect a cure in my life time and here I am at 44 yrs old with half my life hopefully still ahead of me with the very probable prospect that I and many others with various disabilities will have the chance to live our lives like we had only dreamed until a few short yrs ago. A job like Dr. Lanzas' is not a 9-5 job, it is a LIFESTYLE-you eat, live, breathe it, lay awake at nights. Seriously Pete, how can you possibly even justify your comments??

  4. Comment by questionpredictions, Apr 5th, 2010 7:02pm

    I'm a little bit confused by the other comments here. Just because a scientist works on stem cell research doesn't automatically make them immune to any criticism ever. (In fact, we should be more skeptical/critical/careful when it comes to this research, because there is so much at stake - and I think any decent scientist would agree.) This piece is just asking what's going on at a company that has been pretty close to failing for awhile now, after comments by the lead scientist *seem* to *potentially* contradict the company line. Why are these comments so hateful?

  5. Comment by feeed, Mar 17th, 2010 6:31am

    Dear Pete,

    BTW, EVERYONE posting here does have a "Financial Interest" in the Company and will rebuff ANY-NON-FACTS put out by uninformed authors. Your opinions ofcourse are fine and dandy. However a few of your opinions are rather suspect to many of Us with the timing of P.T.Barnum and his great Stunt on Monday.

    Advanced Cell Technology is no longer financially crippled. The Company's 10k put out yesterday will validate that as FACT. see FACT below.


    I am confident in April 2010 it will time for you to do a more FACT based article on Advanced Cell Technology.

  6. Comment by Dan Pratson, Mar 16th, 2010 11:26pm


    I'm not sure why anyone w/o financial interest would write an article such as this pete. Everything at ACT is genuine hard research trying to help ill people all over the world. I personally have no money in the company cause I'm scared of the stock market, however my son has Stargardt's which is a horrible disease to cope with. I follow EVERYTHING this company does, and I highly doubt you have any idea what you're talking about....

    Please check your facts, sir.

  7. Comment by Chuck, Mar 16th, 2010 8:55pm

    Wide right, Shankapotomus...wide right.

  8. Comment by Bill Nelson, Mar 16th, 2010 7:13pm

    Maybe you should read Dr. Lanza's book and if you were to gain consciousness you would see what an atrocity you have delivered.
    This country the United States of America is in trouble my friend. Do you support your country? I would think you would so why not support Dr. Lanza, an American scientist working with an American company developing and delivering the greatest breakthrough in medical technology.
    ACTC could very well stand for
    American Company Takes Control.

  9. Comment by Pete Shanks, Mar 16th, 2010 1:00pm

    Thanks for commenting. I am anti-hype, not by any means anti-science; I think exaggeration and over-promising get in the way of good research. The post did mention the FDA and NIH decisions. It also noted Lanza's genuine expertise. I'm not sure why anyone with no financial interest in ACT would object.

  10. Comment by Sean Escobar, Mar 16th, 2010 12:03pm


    You are surely and truly an ignorant human being. Dr. Robert Lanza's work is proven and validated. This man has done so much for science and progression of stem cells that hes widely known as the father of stem cells.

    I can clearly see what you are trying to do. You have your own personal agenda of destruction but sadly for you, you picked an intelligent guy that will not prove you wrong by answering this misleading article but with his powerful science. Two to five years time the blind will see and you will once again look like a circus clown.

  11. Comment by feeed, Mar 16th, 2010 8:32am

    Dear Pete,

    The Puffery you describe with Advanced Cell Technology is correct up until 8/3/2008. That date is when Michael West the former CEO of Advanced Cell Technology resigned. Michael West is known as the P.T. Barnum of the StemCell industry. If you need to understand what kind of character West is look at what HE DID yesterday in regards to his Companys stock trading of Biotome/BTIM. He ordered the stock to be haulted late morning. No press release was put out to inform the shareholders what was going on. Then 7am BTIM comes out with a press release rebuffing a Paper put out by ACT/Harvard and Chicago medical in regards to iSP being inferior in EVERY way to hESC cells.

    I would ENCOURAGE you to look deeper into the FACTS of Advanced Cell Technology. Fact 1/ No Garbage press releases have been released since WEST has left ACT 2/ The CEO Bill Caldwell took over ACT after West had spent years OVER promising and UNDER delivering, "littleboy whom cried wolf", West destroyed ACT's ability to get equity investments because HE LIED to WALLSTREET. 3/ FACT Bill Caldwell did NOT take a payroll check from ACT for 2.3years/11/09. 4/ FACT Bill Caldwell spent almost 6million dollars of his OWN money to keep ACT operating. 5/Robert Lanza does NOT behave like a Rockstar. Rockstars are arrogant and demanding/prima donna's etc.6/ FACT Dr.Lanza went with out a paycheck from ACt for 2years. 7/FACT Dr.Lanza is an "Einstien" A genious whom can Actually function in public. Dr. Lanza could be making 3million dollars a year at a Big Pharma, or for that Matter Harvard University, but he CHOOSES to Work at a Broke Biotech in an old Mill Town because the science MATTERS more, Hardly the Case for CALLING him a Rockstar. 8/FACT Advanced Cell Technology is closer than Geron Corp on starting the Commercialization process. 9/FACT ACT has been approved by the FDA to use hESC for Orphan Drug Status. 10/ FACt the SMD IND is DAYS/HOURS away from being approved, the Orphan Drug Status will allow ACT to have a FAST tracked Process and combining it into a p1/2

    Anyway, Your article was very insulting and unprofessional in my opinion and did not HIT on FACTS.


  12. Comment by thefuture, Mar 16th, 2010 3:08am

    Sad that you are seemingly obsessed with Dr. Lanza and his work. The article was a horrible attempt to discredit a man who clearly is one of the great minds of our time. ACT has the potential to cure (notice I didn't say treat) diseases starting with Stargardt's and Macular Degeneration, then moving on to restoring full function to damaged heart muscles, then onto creating O negative blood cells assuring that the people who need transfusions will get them whether it be on the battlefield or at a local hospital. People like yourself are attempting to slow his progress by your ridiculous and clearly uninformed babble. If you actually read beyond page 2 of biocentrism you might have realized how insightful this man is, but I believe that would be a stretch for you.

  13. Comment by Pathetic Pete, Mar 16th, 2010 12:41am

    Dear Pete Shanks,

    Are you kidding me? Is this supposed to be funny? I am not sure what your agenda is, but this has to be the most pathetic, one sided, uninformed article I have ever read. It doesn't even deserve a response, but I feel that I must for those few people that may be hearing about Dr. Robert Lanza for the first time through this sad article.

    First off, tell me a biography in ANY field, whether it is sports, music, economics, or bio medicine, where that person does not write highly of themselves? After receiving about every award or accolade that one could possibly get in the field of bio science, being a Fulbright Scholar, as a member of the team that cloned the first human embryo, authoring several books which are basically the "Bible" in terms of reference to tissue engineering and stem cell biology, would you expect him to simply write that he is a mediocre scientist? Check out a profile of Michael Jordan or world renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman and tell me if they tone down their greatness. Yeah, I didn't think you'd find it either.

    You mention the US News & World Report article. Whether or not the article was only about him or not, his teachers WERE Jonas Salk and Christiaan Barnard. His mentors DO consider him a genius. There is nothing self "promotional" about simply stating facts.

    You do realize when reputable media outlets such as Bloomberg, USA Today, CNN, the NY Times etc...look for a quote about stem cells, who do you think they go to? That's right, Dr. Robert "Bob" Lanza.

    If any newcomers here wish to hear this "self promoting", "dopey" (by the way Pete, nice one quoting from 1992 and also from Wired {2007}, a more amateur online magazine than BioPolicital Times, hahaha!), and arrogant man, I implore all readers to listen to a recent radio interview he did about Biocentrism. PLEASE google it. It is on webtalkradio. I think you will hear a man who is obviously NOT interested in self promotion. In fact I believe you will hear the opposite.

    Just because he writes Biocentrism it makes him full of himself? Pete, I know it is tough to come to grips with people being smarter than you, but if scientific theories were not questioned and put to test, then we would still be thinking the earth was flat. Obviously you have never read Biocentrism or you wouldn't be saying "his theory of everything", manipulating it to make it sound as if he thinks he is God.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact of the matter is, as much as Pete Shanks, Jesse Reynolds, and the rest of the goofball staff at BioPolitcal times try to bash Advanced Cell Technology and Robert Lanza, just remember the scientific facts. ACT is about to be approved to start the first EVER human trials using embryonic stem cells to treat Stargardt's disease, an eye disease causing blindness to children. It has already been granted Orphan status by the FDA. The NIH has recently announced it will change the rules to allow early stage embryo lines (that by the way are NOT HARMED) to receive government funding. This no joke everyone, just google it yourself. You will see that the government actually changed the rules SPECIFICALLY for Advanced Cell Technology. This is just a small tad of the exciting news hovering around this company and Robert Lanza recently. In closing, I would also just like to bring to everyone's attention that Dr. Lanza has recently signed a 2 year contract extension to work at ACT. So I guess there goes Pete Shanks theory about Lanza trying to buy his way out of ACT through Biocentrism, hahahahaha! Nice try!

    P.S. If anyone is in the Winston-Salem area, you might want to know that the self promoting "puff" ball, Dr. Robert Lanza will be a keynote speaker at the first annual Translational Regenerative Medicine Forum, to be held in Winston-Salem, NC, April 6-8, 2010. Google it for yourselves and check out the list of the other "no-name" arrogant scientists who think they are better than everyone else that will be participating. How dare they be so cocky to show their potentially world-changing research and ideas at this forum right?

  14. Comment by Eric Del, Mar 15th, 2010 11:27pm

    This is the most uninformed, ridiculous article I have ever read. You obviously have personal issues...possibly an unhealthy obsession with a natural talent like Robert Lanza. Your article seems like Fox news for science..on an endless amount of steroids. The spin you put on the reasoning of Advanced Cell Technology's Chief Scientific Officer, Robert Lanza, for publishing scientific evidence for IPS cells not being as efficient as true embryonic stem cells is shameful. Robert Lanza has no intention on leaving Advanced Cell Technology. Advanced Cell Technology is pursueing research in the areas of both Embryonic Stem cells and IPS cells. Embryonic stem cells are much closer to commercialization than IPS cells due to known and accepted complications when inducing cells into their pluripotent state. This paper was done in collaboration with Harvard and University of Illinoise and there is a level of respect and understanding amongst all of the participants who made this study possible that you, sir, will never come to know or comprehend. Either you were paid to write this paper by clown or you yourself are the clown to have written this garbage. Either way, you are a clown.

    You are bad for science...therefor, you are bad for the progress of humanity...therefor, you are bad for humantity. Get a life.



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