Monday, July 31, 2017

Zipped Up in Oakland: California Stem Cell Agency Mute on Search for New CEO

More than mum -- a good description for the $3 billion California stem cell agency this morning as it wrestles with what is likely its most important decision of 2017.

And that is finding a new president to oversee what some call the "last stage" of its life and its search for a stem cell therapy that will fulfill the expectations of the voters who created the research program in 2004.

The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the Oakland-based agency is formally known, has held one meeting of its presidential search committee since Randy Mills announced his resignation May 2.

No public utterances emerged, however, from the July 17 session. Did the panel set a timetable for selecting a new president? No response. Will the board hire a search firm to help recruit? No response. Is the search committee going to meet again? No response. Simple questions that have been dealt with openly in past presidential searches at CIRM.

The search for a replacement for Mills has special significance. The agency expects it will run out of cash for new awards in three years or less. In the world of stem cell research, that may not be a nanosecond but it is a very short period of time.

Maria Millan, CIRM photo
It raises the likelihood of an exodus of staff from the program, which has also lost another linchpin in the organization, general counsel James Harrison. Without some certainty and confidence about the next three years, some CIRM employees, of which there are only about 50, may look to other enterprises for their professional futures. The likelihood of more departures could increase unless the board moves to shore up stability and to help retain the energy that Mills brought to the program.

Maria Millan, formerly the vice president for therapeutics, is interim president. Mills publicly endorsed her to fill his slot, which carries an annual salary of up to $575,000. She has been in place for one month. She too may be wondering about the stability of her position and whether she should be looking elsewhere for a position.

The next meeting of the governing board of the agency is set for Aug. 24. CIRM Chairman J.T. Thomas usually gives a report to the board at many meetings. He skipped that at the board meeting in July. Will he will brief the board at the August meeting on the presidential search? That has not yet been publicly disclosed.

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