Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Knoepfler Dozen: Kicking Around Names for Stem Cell Agency Presidency

A UC Davis stem cell researcher today came up with a list of 12 persons who have the “stem cell chops” to become the new president of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

They include a few folks from the NIH, two women and one of the earliest pioneers in the nation in stem cell research.

Writing on his blog, scientist Paul Knoepfler pulled together the names based on “behind-the-scenes” discussions with “some folks in the know.” It is much too early in the process to identify genuine candidates. Nonetheless, they are possibilities, however remote, and represent the type of persons that Knoepfler and his colleagues are talking about.

A couple of caveats when evaluating these names and whether they would even consider leaving their current, very nice positions. One is that they would have to give up their labs. Outgoing CIRM President Alan Trounson has lamented more than once about how he had to do that. Also, questions arise about whether a person considering the post would want to leave his or her current employment for a job that could basically vanish in less than three years.

The agency will run out of money for new grants in 2017. Unless it finds additional funding, the last few years of operations beyond 2017 will involve simply administering the last grants. Even if it does raise more cash, it is exceedingly unlikely that the agency will be able to continue hand out $300 million a year.

That said, here are Knoepfler's dozen. First, the women: Jeanne Loring of Scripps and Story Landis of the NIH. The stem cell pioneer is Michael West, CEO of Biotime, who founded Geron back in 1990.

The others are Jim Battey, who was previously a late stage candidate for the job, and Mahendra Rao, both of the NIH; Rusty Gage of Salk, Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego, Arnold Kriegstein of UC San Francisco, Tom Okarma, former CEO of Geron and now head of Asterias Biotherapeutics, which now owns Geron's stem cell assets, Brock Reeve of Harvard, Clive Svendsen of Cedars-Sinai and Keith Yamamoto of UC San Francisco.

Notably missing from the list are possibilities from Stanford, UCLA and USC.

A note re Goldstein of UC San Diego, he was recently named to head the $100 million Sanford stem cell operation, which makes it unlikely he would move to the stem cell agency.

CIRM's job description also currently carefully omits a requirement that the new president be a scientist, only that the person have scientific credibility.

One scientist knowledgeable about CIRM's operation recently told the California Stem Cell Report that great scientists often make terrible managers, a sentiment that may come into play during the selection process.

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