Thursday, August 30, 2007

Grueling Work, CIRM and Burger King

Is the $3 billion California stem cell agency a Rube Goldberg-like contraption deliberately designed to function on a shoestring?

Reporter David Hamilton of Venture Beat says yes. Hamilton, who once covered biotech for the Wall Street Journal, today wrote about the state of the CIRM in the wake of the departure of its No. 1 scientist.
“…(I)t seems safe to say that the stem-cell agency is probably one of the most grueling places to work in all of biomedicine. Structually, CIRM is a Rube Goldberg-inspired contraption in which a panel of 26 appointed academic luminaries, business types and patient advocates oversees a professional staff of no more than 50. The powerful oversight committee chairman, Robert Klein II, essentially runs the show, which undoubtedly complicates the job of finding a prominent biologist — not usually the shyest and most self-effacing people around — willing to give up their laboratory in order to butt heads with Klein over the institute’s management and direction.

“What’s more, CIRM itself was deliberately designed to function on a shoestring. That hard cap of 50 staffers was initially intended to reassure California voters that the agency wouldn’t waste taxpayer money on a hiring binge, and in that sense, it’s clearly worked. On the other hand, add the fact that the agency hasn’t even come close to filling all 50 positions to the string of departures, and it begins to look a lot like the institute is paying the price by burning through its human resources at an accelerated rate.”
We should add that as of a couple a weeks ago, CIRM had 26 employees, perhaps the equivalent of the staff needed for a 24-hour Burger King. CIRM´s board of directors numbers 29. Sphere: Related Content


  1. Thanks for the mention. However, I count 26 members of the ICOC on the official CIRM list here (PDF), not 29. Whew. I worked from memory and was afraid I'd gotten that wrong when I saw your item.

    By the way, ICOC member David Serrano Sewell took issue with my analysis in comments here. My response should be up shortly as well.

  2. Three vacancies exist on the 29-member Oversight Committee. All are legally overdue to be filled, including one from the California governor, whose motto is "action, action, action." No penalties are imposed in this case for failing to comply with state law, Prop. 71, a situation that reflects more poorly on Prop. 71 and the initiative process than the constitutional officers involved.