Friday, September 14, 2007

CIRM CEO Search: The Burden of Being in the Vanguard

The article spoke of the "strange beast," the nexus of forces and an organization like no other. But topic No. 1 was the ongoing search for a new permanent president for the California stem cell agency.

Monya Baker, news editor for Nature Reports Stem Cell, explored the effort in a piece that appeared online.

She began by describing CIRM as a "strange beast" and quoted one observer as likening it to a two-headed monster. Here are some excerpts from Baker's article.
"Many people are watching CIRM, says Mary Woolley, head of Research!America, a health-research advocacy group in Virginia. With other investments in research flat, the institute is 'in a vanguard,', she says. 'It's really important for CIRM to get it right....

"'Failed searches happen all the time,' she says. Without a clear consensus about what they are looking for, she continues, a board could go through a search three or four times, each ending in disappointment."
Baker continued:
"Board member Jeff Sheehy, an AIDS patient advocate, thinks experts with an industry background might be most adept at transforming research into therapies. 'My pill bottles don't say UCSF,' he explains. 'Someone from the foundation world or the business community might be an interesting choice.'"
Baker quoted Hamilton Moses, a biomedical consultant in Virginia who focuses on non-profit governance.
"'CIRM operates at the nexus of the Political (with a capital P), scientific, institutional, and business forces of an aggressive state that views economic development as a priority.' Its organization, he adds, doesn't help. 'Noah's Ark' boards, where each member is appointed to represent a constituency, rarely work.'"
Baker continued:
"'This is mainly a skilled management job, requiring wisdom, scientific expertise, and a good list of known contacts to go to for advice and help, but not necessarily a background in medicine or stem cells,' says Bruce Alberts at the University of California, San Francisco, who served two six-year terms as president of the US National Academy of Sciences. Management jobs require many tasks that scientists find boring, adds (Tom) Cech, (president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute). Only someone with tremendous skills at working with diverse groups of people could thrive in this job."
She quoted California stem cell chairman Robert Klein as saying that none of the presidential candidates has cited the board's or his own role as an obstacle.

Baker also interviewed interim CIRM President Richard Murphy, who said that CIRM's governance structure is sound.
"...(T)he diversity of the board is an asset, he says; basic scientists who value 'curiosity-driven research' and patient advocates intent on clinical progress have much to teach each other. The trick, he says, is establishing mechanisms so groups work together. '''I bring that experience, an understanding of how the board can interact effectively with the institution.'"
She pointed out that the Salk Institute, which Murphy left in July, had four presidents in four years before he joined the organization in 2000.

Baker's final paragraph:
"But if there is one thing people agree on, it is that CIRM is an organization like no other. 'CIRM represents an experiment,' says Moses. 'It is too soon to know whether it will be successful.'"

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