Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Csete Quits CIRM on Eve of Huge Grant Round

In an unsettling move, Marie Csete has resigned as the chief scientific officer for the $3 billion California stem cell agency, only 15 months after she joined CIRM in the $310,000-a-year post.

Csete's departure comes as the agency is about to embark on its most ambitious and largest round of research grants – a complex, $210 million “disease team” effort aimed at pushing research towards clinical trials.

CIRM Board Chairman Robert Klein has described the round as critical for CIRM, both in terms of producing results and in generating support for the private sale of state bonds to support the agency.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog, this afternoon disclosed Csete's departure on the blog on his organization's Web site.

In an email to members of the CIRM board, Csete(photo at left) said,
“I have decided to resign my position at CIRM as of August 1, 2009. I am sorry and disappointed that I was unable to say goodbye to you at the last ICOC (the CIRM board) meeting. I look forward to seeing your many successes! “
In response to a query, Simpson said,
"This is a sad day for CIRM. Dr Marie Csete, like Dr. Arlene Chiu before her, is the backbone of CIRM's scientific endeavors. It's particularly troubling that two top women scientists have left the agency after relatively short tenures. It raises serious questions about the agency's management under Chairman Bob Klein and President Alan Trounson. They owe the board a detailed explanation."
No successor appears to be in the wings. In a message to board members on behalf of Klein, Melissa King, executive director of the board, said,
“We will be working on a succession plan for Marie. Bob would like to talk to each of you to get your thoughts, and he and I will work on that in the coming days.”
On the surface, Klein's plan to call board members would appear to be a violation of the ban on serial meetings of public bodies such as the CIRM board. We suspect it will be justified on the basis that it deals with personnel matters, although it also overlaps into policy areas.

Csete's possible departure had been rumored for at least a month or more. She gave no reason for her resignation in the copies of the email messages that we have received. According to those we talked to, she was reportedly dissatisfied with CIRM's management and possibly with the reception afforded her scientific advice.

Simpson said the board should demand an explanation of her departure from Klein and Trounson.

Filling a high level post such as Csete's always takes a fair amount of time, but CIRM has been very slow in the past in filling top level positions, including that of president.

Prior to joining CIRM, Csete was John E. Steinhaus Professor of Anesthesiology at Emory University, with adjunct appointment in cell biology, and program faculty appointments in biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, neurosciences and the Emory/Georgia Tech Biomedical Engineering Program. She was additionally the director of liver transplant anesthesiology at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and director of the Emory/Georgia Tech Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core, and co-director of the Emory MD/PhD program.

In announcing Csete's appointment in March 2008, Trounson said,
”Her training and experience as both a basic researcher and clinician is critical to our strategy of advancing discoveries into the translational pipeline. In addition, her expertise in the field of transplantation and understanding of immunology issues will be highly relevant to advancing new discoveries in the stem cell field toward therapies and cures. ”
The announcement also said,
"'No one knows more about or is more skilled at dealing with the intersecting worlds of real-life clinical transplantation and basic stem cell research than Dr. Csete,' commented David J Stone, MD, Adjunct Professor of Anesthesiology and Neurological Surgery at the University of Virginia School of Medicine."
In the item below, you can read CIRM email messages concerning Csete”s departure.

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