U’s Star Scientist Ousted From Co. She Founded
In 2008, Doris Taylor made headlines around the world and was lauded as a brilliant scientist whose research could change the face of medicine-but last July, she was quietly removed from the board of the company she founded.
Miromatrix Medical, Inc., was spun out of the University of Minnesota in December 2009 and formally launched in February 2010 when the U of M signed an exclusive licensing agreement to allow the company to commercialize Taylor's groundbreaking research-a technique that holds the promise of enabling the replacement of entire human organs with organs that are stripped of their cells and reinfused with cells from the recipient or a compatible donor. The technology is hoped to revolutionize organ transplants and save millions of lives.
After members of the media recently got wind of Taylor's ousting, Tim Mulcahy, the U of M's vice president of research, on Monday issued a statement confirming that the university voted its shares of the company in favor of removing Taylor from its board.
The university doesn't hold a position on Miromatrix's board, but spokesman John Merritt confirmed Tuesday morning that the university holds 28.6 percent of the company's founding stock.
Miromatrix CEO Robert Cohen didn't immediately return a Tuesday morning phone message, but the Star Tribune reported that he got a founding stake of between 24 percent and 35.7 percent-and that he and the university, which collectively hold a majority stake, voted together to remove Taylor from the board. Taylor has the fewest shares of Miromatrix's founding common stock.
Mulcahy said in his Monday statement that the university “did not 'fire' Dr. Taylor” and that “it was the board's decision to terminate Dr. Taylor as a member.”
He went on to say that the university voted its shares in favor of removing Taylor from the board “in the interest of fulfilling our goal for Miromatrix: to ensure that the company continues to make progress and move the technology into the public domain as quickly as possible in order to benefit society-a goal shared by Dr. Taylor.”
Taylor-whose fame began after her team brought a dead rat heart back to life in 2008-on Tuesday confirmed a media report indicating that she and Cohen clashed over her role, which she perceived to be weakened after Cohen brought Travanti Pharma's chairman, Walt Sembrowich, to Miromatrix as its board chairman. Cohen ran Travanti Pharma, a drug patch company, for five years before selling it in 2009.
Taylor said that she posed questions in a meeting last July about Miromatrix's finances and direction and asked how the company-which last year received $500,000 in loans from the state-funded Agricultural and Economic Development Board-was spending its limited cash. Soon after the meeting, Taylor got a phone call telling her that company's shareholders had voted her off the board.
“I tend to ask questions. I'm curious,” Taylor told Twin Cities Business. “I want to understand how things work, and I want to understand how things are going to move forward in a way that benefits the world. . . . As a person who constantly pushes the edge, I'm sure I sometimes push the edge with people as well.”
Taylor made clear that she plans to do everything in her power to push her research forward to the point where it saves lives-regardless of whether she's on the board of the company that must ultimately make that happen.
“I'm about changing the world,” she said. “Really what this is about for me is life-saving technology. I've always been in this to save lives. I always will be.”
Prior to Taylor's departure, Miromatrix's board consisted of six individuals and one outside observer-two of whom were women, according to Taylor. She said that she asks herself daily whether the fact that she was a woman influenced the outcome of the shareholder vote.
“I certainly have no idea what goes on in the minds of other people,” she said. “What I can tell you is that . . . I think strong women always raise eyebrows in a different way than strong men. We all know that sometimes the same question coming out of two people's mouths is viewed very differently.”
Several university officials didn't return Tuesday morning phone calls requesting further information about the reasons for Taylor's removal from the board. Merritt would say only: “In terms of the deliberations of the board, those are . . . confidential.”
However, Merritt said that Taylor's research on regenerative medicine will continue to be used by Miromatrix. In fact, the license agreement between the company and the university indicates that Miromatrix has the rights to all inventions related to its current technology for three years-a period that began in February 2010 when the company officially launched.
Meanwhile, Taylor continues to serve as a U of M professor of integrative biology and physiology and remains the director of the U's Center for Cardiovascular Repair.
Said Mulcahy: “We remain enthusiastic about the potential impact of Dr. Taylor's important breakthrough and are confident that Miromatrix will successfully realize its full potential. Dr. Taylor remains a productive and valued faculty member of the University of Minnesota.”