Interim stem cell chief picked;

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Ex-board member is a neuroscientist who led Salk Institute for 7 years.

Sacramento Bee (California)

Seven months into its search for a new executive, the governing board of the California state stem cell institute on Wednesday tapped one of its former members, neuroscientist Richard Murphy, to take the post on an interim basis.

Murphy, 62, was president and chief executive of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla for seven years until his retirement July 1. Upon leaving Salk, he also resigned his seat on the 29-member board of the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Murphy replaces Zach Hall, the agency’s founding president, who resigned abruptly in the spring after a contentious subcommittee meeting.

In leaving, Hall, who in January had announced his intention to leave in June, cited both a recent cancer diagnosis and frustration in dealing with the board.

“I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue working with CIRM‘s staff and governing board, in a new capacity, to help further the institute’s mission of developing stem cell technology to treat chronic diseases,” Murphy said in a statement.

The agency had set a June target for hiring a permanent president. When that date passed, they turned to Murphy, who takes over Sept. 1 and will serve for six months.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the search has taken this long and that they’ve had to go the route of an interim president,” said John Simpson, a spokesman with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a watchdog group based in Santa Monica. “But given that fact, I think that Richard Murphy will be a good leader.”

Simpson said he was pleased that Murphy had pledged not to take part in discussions about grants to San Diego-area institutions.

Murphy will earn $300,000. He will not be a candidate for permanent appointment to the job, according to Wednesday’s statement.

A permanent agency president likely would earn more than $400,000 a year, and would help shape the state’s $3 billion, first-of-its-kind stem cell research effort.

But the position has proved difficult to fill: The president must be both a respected scientist and a veteran administrator, and would be taking over the leadership of a young agency that already has faced substantial criticism for its refusal to make public certain aspects of its grant-making process.

The state stem cell agency was created to issue grants authorized by the passage of Proposition 71 in November 2004. The bond measure directs the state to spend $3 billion over roughly 10 years to fund stem cell research, train young scientists and build new laboratories.

Earlier this year, the agency became the world’s largest single funder of embryonic stem cell research.

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