Tuesday, July 22, 2014

California Stem Cell CEO Randy Mills on Focus and Four-Part Tests

It was a case of CEOs interviewing CEOs.

More specifically, it was Robin Smith, head of Neostem, Inc., “grilling” Randy Mills, the new CEO of the $3 billion California stem cell agency. The venue was the Huffington Post.

It wasn’t exactly hard ball stuff, as one might expect. Nonetheless it was the lengthiest such exchange with Mills, the former president of Osiris Therapeutics of Maryland, since he was named president of the stem cell agency in April.

Neostem, by the way, does not hold any awards from the agency, although it does have operations in Mountain View and Irvine. The Southern California location is the site of the former California Stem Cell, Inc., which was purchased by Neostem for $126 million earlier this year, obviously making Neostem a potential applicant for CIRM funds.

Here are some excerpts from Smith’s interview with Mills.

On leaving Osiris and coming to California, Mills,
“I started discussing with my family what might be next, including taking a break to spend more time with them. However, fate had other plans.
“In February I received a call from CIRM asking if I was interested in the President and CEO position. Having spent the past five years as a grant reviewer for CIRM, I was already quite familiar with the stem cell agency. If you believe in the potential of regenerative medicine and cell therapy as I do, there is no place in the world you could go to have a bigger impact. No company, no other state, not even a country can have the impact California can have in bringing these treatments to patients. And so with that, I accepted the challenge.”
Mills’ four-part test for CIRM projects:
“First, will what we are doing speed up the development of stem cell treatments for patients? Second, will it increase the likelihood of a successful treatment reaching patients? Third, is it for an unmet medical need? And lastly is it efficient?”
Mills’ focus on “focus,” something he mentioned in slicing $15 million from the $70 million Alpha stem cell clinic plan.
“For CIRM to achieve its full potential, I firmly believe we need to remain focused on bringing treatments to patients, fast. Everyone loves that word, ‘focus.’ However, what they may not love is living with its reciprocal, which is everything else we don't do. Without focus, you never have to have the hard conversation. You never have to say ‘no.’ However, without focus, you also tend to not get things done. I came to CIRM to get stem cell treatments to patients in need, and that means focus.”
Mills on funding projects that “otherwise will get done.”
“CIRM exists under the principle of ‘If not for us....’ California stepped up when, and most importantly because, others would not. Funding something here-and-now that will otherwise get done without CIRM is not consistent with what the people of California wanted to accomplish with Proposition 71(which created the agency). It also violates my third rule, because it wouldn't really be an unmet need if it were going to happen in any event.
“We are here to help get stem cell treatments that, if not for us, would take longer to reach patients or might not happen at all. If you look at the projects we support that are now heading into clinical trials, many would never have even gotten off the ground if it hadn't been for us.”­­­­
Mills did not mention this, but funding such projects is also high risk. That’s why they haven’t been funded. So the reasonable expectation is to see a few failures – perhaps more than a few – among the CIRM efforts.
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