Sunday, December 05, 2010

Is Klein a Shoo-In for Chair of California Stem Cell? Maybe, Maybe Not

Is the re-election of Robert Klein as chairman of the California stem cell agency a foregone conclusion? A significant number of our readers think so.

The only other candidate to be nominated for that post is Art Torres, now co-vice chair of the $3 billion enterprise. Nature magazine has reported that he probably is not going to push his candidacy.

However, if the CIRM governing board re-elects Klein, it will be indicating to the public and the international stem cell community that it tolerates, if not approves of Klein's maladroit attempts to engineer the selection of his successor. As was pointed out in a Toronto newspaper on Saturday, Klein's machinations compromised the reputation of California's stem cell effort.

The belief that Klein is bound to be re-elected seems to be based on several assumptions. One is that if Torres is elected, CIRM President Alan Trounson will resign. Nature magazine reported last week that Torres and Trounson “cannot stand each other.”

That would leave the agency with a new chair and with no president and no vice president of research and development, a new position that replaces the post of chief scientific officer. Trounson has not filled the VP slot despite a hiring effort that began nearly 18 months ago. That leadership situation may seem daunting to some board members.

However, the CIRM board may choose other avenues. One possibility would see the board deferring all action until the dust settles. That would mean Klein would continue in his post, unless he walks directly out the door, which he may do if he is not re-elected on his own terms. If Klein does that, as co-vice chairs, Torres and Duane Roth, could split the job's responsibilities until the board decides to vote.

In another scenario, the board could name an acting chair and schedule a later election for chair. If the directors are concerned that naming an acting chair might violate the technical terms of Prop. 71, they could officially designate the position as “interim presiding officer” or something similar. The board already created a “non-statutory” vice chair in giving the posts to Torres and Roth. To avoid giving the appearance of favoritism to Torres, the board could look to somebody like Gerald Levey, a former member of the board and former dean of the UCLA medical school, for the interim job. Other possibilities include board members Ed Penhoet, co-founder of Chiron, and Sherry Lansing, former Hollywood studio chief, both currently members of the board and well-regarded.

Given a little more time, the board could put together a group of board members to deal with selection of a new chair, which could make fresh recommendations for nominations to the four statewide officials entitled to make them. The CIRM board could even ask the public, researchers and industry via its Internet site to make suggestions for candidates, as did state Controller John Chiang, one of the nominating officials.

One matter for the board to consider is Klein's lame duck status -- even if he were re-elected for a 12-month term as he has suggested. He will increasingly lose effectiveness. Outside of CIRM, researchers and the biotech industry will be looking ahead to his replacement – something that is likely occur as well within the agency.

Klein, a real estate investment banker, says it is necessary to find a nationally respected scientist to replace him and has promised to do so. However, the board has made no public statement that it wants a scientist as chairman. Plus Klein's past searches for a president for CIRM have been rocky and prolonged. It took a year to bring Trounson on board, including a delay of three months after his hiring was approved. No reason exists to expect anything different should Klein embark on his own search for his successor.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., and longtime observer of CIRM, said the board should simply vote in Torres.

He made the suggestion when queried by the California Stem Cell Report. Simpson declared,
"Nobody disputes Bob Klein's substantial contributions to CIRM. The agency would not even exist if it were not for him. Nonetheless, there is a time for every leader to move on.

"That time is past due for Klein, a point that was hammered home by his sleazy and inappropriate backroom tactics to manipulate the selection of his successor."

"Suggestions to elect an interim chairman are intriguing, but unnecessary. Art Torres has been nominated for the post and has all the qualifications necessary to lead CIRM to the next level."
In whatever case, Prop. 71 makes it clear that the choice of chairman is a matter for the entire 29-member board. Klein is only one member of that board.


  1. Why cannot CIRM have transparency? CIRM gave Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine ~40 millions to boost San Diego’s resources for human embryonic stem cell research. Sanford even denies they have any stem cell faculty or will house any, probably will end up as Louis Coffman’s penthouse. Let us wonder how much or how little of State’s stem cell bond money really went into human embryonic stem cell research.

  2. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Love your comment jparsons001. The public needs to be interested in where their money is going!

  3. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Vote ART TORRES to replace Klein. Vote JEFF SHEEHY to a higher post. Sheehy understands the issues and is the recent unsung hero in all of this. At the least, give him more responsibility and PAY him for his work. Money is going out the door at an astounding rate at CIRM. If not, why isn't SHEEHY (and ALL others like him) getting paid for their every bit as meaningful work as administrators and non-scientists/clinicions currently payrolled at CIRM?

    Let Klein leave as scheduled.

    Those at CIRM who are in a position to vote, VOTE your conscience, whatever that is. Make your vote count.

    CIRM really CAN become more transparent. Give TORRES and TROUNSON a chance to settle into roles they are naturally suited for - Torres a politician and stem cell and CIRM advocate and Trounson a scientist. Does anyone know WHY they reportedly don't like one another, its origins, and who/what might be the possible beneficiary or beneficiaries of this unresolved conflict?

    Someone affiliated with CIRM - broker a huddle with Trounson and Torres to discuss how it can be resolved and how positive the future of CIRM can be without it!