The letter may not necessarily have its desired impact. One CIRM board member, David Serrano Sewell, said,
"Honestly, I'm not sure anyone really cares what they think, they should focus on research and finding cures, not dwelling on board matters."The 11 signatories to the letter include two Nobel Prize winners, one of whom, David Baltimore, is a former member of the governing board of CIRM. All but one of them have tens of millions of dollars at stake in grants from the stem cell agency and are heavily invested in basic research, as opposed to translational efforts to push research into the clinic.
Irv Weissman of Stanford, one of the signers, for example, has $23 million in grants from CIRM. Another, Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego, holds $14 million in grants. Most of the institutions employing the scientists also have representatives on the CIRM board of directors. (For additional information on Goldstein's grant, see here.)
CIRM is currently involved in assessing the future direction of its research. Should it move more strongly towards business and actual use of stem cell therapies on patients, it is likely to mean that basic research will have a smaller share of CIRM's remaining $2 billion.
In the letter, the 11 said,
“In this regard, we stress, that our collective experience with the discovery of new approaches to the treatment of disease is that new solutions to currently intractable problems will come primarily from research that gives rise to new understanding of disease itself. On occasion, significant progress can also come from thoughtful application of existing knowledge, but either on its own is insufficient. Hence, it is crucial for the next ICOC Chair to have a deep understanding of both scientific and medical principles in order to balance short and long-term investment in stem cell research and clinical application.”The group plumped for the proposal by Klein, a real estate investment banker, that he be replaced with a nationally known scientist. They said,
“We also enthusiastically support Mr. Kleinʼs proposal to find a successor who has substantial scientific and medical experience as well as personal familiarity with the burdens of disease.”That requirement is not part of the legal qualifications for chair, which do include a familiarity with bond financing, which is the only source of CIRM funding.
The board meets Wednesday afternoon at Stanford to consider action on nominations for its chair. It does not actually have to vote, however. If it does not do so, Klein, whose term is expiring, would automatically continue in office.
One of our readers refreshed us on that last week after we wrote that Klein appears to be a shoo-in for re-election after the only other nominee, vice chairman Art Torres, said he was stepping aside for the good of the agency. Klein has offered to serve for 12 months without salary until the board picks a new chair. His decision to decline a salary (he now earns $150,000 for half-time work) apparently removes a conflict of interest and enables him to participate in board discussions about chair selection that he would be otherwise barred from. However, removal of his salary would require board action, which would seem to be an ongoing conflict for him, whether he wants the salary or not.
There is a remote possibility that another candidate for chair could surface. The state treasurer has not yet made a nomination. The state controller nominated Torres but could withdraw that nomination in favor of someone else. The governor and lieutenant governor have nominated Klein. The board's choice is limited by Prop. 71 to those nominated by the four state officials, but it does not have to accept any.