Tuesday, May 02, 2017

California's $3 Billion Stem Cell Agency Loses CEO Randy Mills

C. Randal Mills
CIRM photo
In a surprise move, the president of California's $3 billion stem cell research effort this morning announced his resignation as the program enters what some are calling its "final test."

C. Randal Mills said that he has taken a position as president of the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis, Minn. He said he will leave the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, at the end of June.

Maria Millan, CIRM photo
Maria Millan, vice president of therapeutics, will become interim president of the 12-year-old agency in July. The governing board of the agency plans a meeting of its search committee in July to consider its options regarding the appointment of a permanent president for CIRM, which expects to run out of cash for new awards in three years.

Just last week, the prestigious journal Nature described the Oakland-based agency as entering its "final test" and "last stage."

Mills, 45, joined the agency almost exactly three years ago and promptly launched a more focused effort than previously existed to fulfill the promises and expectations created by the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the agency.

Jonathan Thomas, CIRM chairman and who recruited Mills, said in a press release,
“CIRM has experienced a remarkable transformation since Randy’s arrival. He has taken the agency to a new level by developing and implementing a bold strategic plan, the results of which include an 82 percent reduction in approval time, a 3-fold increase in the number of clinical trials, and a 65 percent reduction in the time it takes to enroll those trials.

"CIRM’s mission is to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs, and under Randy’s leadership, CIRM has done just that. The opportunity for Randy to lead a tremendously important organization such as NMDP is consistent with the values he demonstrated at CIRM, which put the well-being of patients above all else."
In an interview with the California Stem Cell Report, Mills said the offer to lead the donoro program "came out of the blue." He said the opportunity to join the world's largest bone marrow effort was unique. The organization, he said "does not do anything that doesn't save lives."

Mills said in the interview that Millan was an obvious choice to succeed him on a permanent basis. In the agency's press release, Mills said,
"What this team has been able to accomplish in that time is remarkable by any objective measure and I thank them for their 'All In' attitude and effort. As a trailblazing institute, CIRM is setting new highs in productivity and efficiency and will continue to deliver on its mission under the leadership of Dr. Millan."
Millan, a physician, has been with the agency since 2012, joining it from StemCells, Inc., where she was acting medical officer and vice president. Prior to that, she was an associate professor of transplant surgery for eight years at Stanford University.

Thomas said,
“One of the most valuable contributions Randy has made at CIRM is the strength of the team he has assembled. Maria is exceptionally well qualified and completely engaged in the operations of CIRM, having worked with Randy as member of the leadership team that created and is executing the strategic plan. With her leadership, we are well positioned for continued success,
Millan was paid $281,000 last year, according to The Sacramento Bee's state worker database. Mills was paid $573,000.

Mills' departure comes as supporters of the agency are concerned about whether its work will effectively end in 2020. However, its first chairman, Bob Klein, is talking about asking California voters for another $5 billion. Klein also led the $34 million ballot campaign.

Klein's organization, Americans for Cures, is planning to conduct a poll this fall to determine the level of public support for CIRM. He has said that if support is in the 70 percent range he would mount a bond issue in 2018. Otherwise, he might try in 2020, a presidential election year, with a larger voter turnout.

The organization that Mills is joining is "the world's largest the world's largest registry of unrelated adult donors and umbilical cord blood (UCB) units," according to Nature. It has been heavily funded by the federal government with an annual budget of $383 million, according to 2014 figures, and has about 1,000 employees. CIRM currently has 46 employees and has ranged up into the middle 50s.

Accompanying Mills in the move to Minneapolis will be his wife, Anna, and two children, Elise, 13, and Chase, 10.

(The agency posted an item on its blog, The Stem Cellar, dealing with Mills' resignation shortly after this item was posted.)

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