Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Former Osiris President Chosen as New CEO at California's Stem Cell Agency
BURLINGAME, Ca. – Directors of the California stem cell agency today selected Randy Mills, the former CEO of Osiris Therapeutics, Inc., of Maryland, to replace Alan Trounson as president of the $3 billion research enterprise.
The governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, unanimously chose Mills, who will be the third CEO in the agency's history.
His strong private sector background will become increasingly important at the agency, given its aggressive push to commercialize stem cell research and bring it into the clinic.
Mills' appointment came as the agency faces its possible financial demise. Its funding for new awards is scheduled to end in less than three years. It has only $600 million left in uncommitted funds. CIRM is exploring new ways to raise cash, including some sort of public-private partnership. The new president will play an important role in finding the money.
Mills raised $160 million to support Osiris, said CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas. Mills told reporters later that his focus is 100 percent on bringing cures to patients.
Mills will be paid $550,000 annually and will receive $95,000 in moving and relocation expenses. Trounson, who is returning to Australia to spend more time with his family, was paid $490,008 annually, a figure that remained unchanged from 2008, when he joined the agency. CIRM said Mills' compensation was less than for similar jobs at universities and nonprofits.
Thomas said that Mills will be examining the agency's operations to determine what it is doing well and what it can do better. No cures or therapies have been developed through research funded the agency. Nonetheless, Thomas recently said that the agency has a record that the state can be proud of. He said that CIRM currently has "10 projects that are in or have been in clinical trials – including therapies for heart failure and HIV/AIDS – and we anticipate several more in cancer, diabetes, sickle cell disease and blindness going into clinical trials this year.”
But even some of its directors have noted the difficult and lengthy task of turning research into cures. Stephen Juelsgaard, former executive vice president of the biotech firm Genentech, in recent months has cited figures that show only 10 percent of potential therapies entering clinical trials are approved for use.
Part of Mills' new job will be retention of the agency's highly skilled 56-person staff, which includes 29 persons holding Ph.D. or M.D. degrees. Some of those staffers may start looking for new positions if they believe the agency is not going to secure new funding In some business situations, that could be done with retention bonuses that would encourage key employees to stay on. However, the agency is limited by law to an operational budget of 6 percent of its research awards, which its directors generally agree is very tight.
Also, in 2015, CIRM is scheduled to lose its free office space in San Francisco, a benefit received as a result of San Francisco's successful bid for the headquarters. It has yet to locate new space in the city, which is experiencing skyrocketing rates for office leases. Several years ago, the agency's outside auditor estimated it would cost CIRM $1 million annually to replace the space. That figure would be much higher today because of the rising leasing costs in San Francisco.