Selection of stem cell vice chair delayed

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The selection of a new vice chairman of California’s stem cell board won’t take place at next week’s meeting in San Francisco as many had expected.

State Democratic Chairman Art Torres has been nominated for the position by fellow Democrats Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Controller John Chiang. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated board member Duane Roth for the position.

The nominations were made in early December and most observers expected the election by the board, known as the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee (ICOC), at the January meeting.

Agendas for the two-day session, Jan. 29 -30, were posted Tuesday with no mention of the vice chair’s election.  I asked the stem cell agency’s chief communications office, Don Gibbons, what happened.

"Because the Governance Subcommittee has not yet had an opportunity to reconvene to continue its deliberations, we’ve postponed the consideration of this item," Gibbons responded.  "Once the Governance Subcommittee meets, we hope to schedule a telephonic meeting of the Board to consider it."

The ICOC’s Governance Subcommittee needs to make a recommendation on whether the position will carry a salary and what time commitment it entails before the selection is made.  In December acting on the subcommittee’s recommendation, the ICOC decided that the Chairman’s position is a half-time job and decided to pay Bob Klein $150,00.

A Governance Subcommittee meeting was scheduled for Friday, but was cancelled because of scheduling conflicts among the members.

Meanwhile, at my request, Roth has provided a statement about his qualifications for the position.  I expect Torres, who has been in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration, to offer one when he returns.

Roth says it is important that the vice chairman’s qualifications complement what the chairman brings to his job.  He cites his background in the drug industry as important experience:

"I believe the overarching goal behind Prop 71 is to support the research and development that will lead to products that will treat and/or cure a broad range of diseases and to assist in getting these products licensed by the FDA and widely available to patients. My set of experiences includes over 30 years of Pharma and Biotech operating responsibility, having begun my career at Johnson & Johnson and then at Wyeth before starting a Biotech company, Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp. In these operating roles, I oversaw more than 20 FDA product approvals including diagnostic products, medical devices and drugs. I was fortunate to have been the product manager at Johnson and Johnson for the first ever FDA license of a monoclonal antibody product in 1979. As CEO of Alliance, I have experienced first-hand the difficulties involved in developing innovative new therapeutic products, having spent 15 years and millions of dollars on our lead product only to have an unexpected side effect derail the product in its final phase 3 clinical trial."

Roth, who has his seat on the board as a representative of the life sciences industry,  says he also meets the Proposition 71 requirement that the vice chairman be a patient advocate:

"With regard to meeting the Prop 71 defined qualifications for the vice chair of ICOC, I have been active for more than 20 years in disease and patient advocacy organizations in leadership roles including the American Heart Association, having served as the Chairman of the annual Heart Walk for three years and receiving its Outstanding Leadership Award, the MS Society (Humanitarian Award) and the American Lung Association."

Roth concludes his statement:

"In summary, I think my experiences and attributes including product development, innovation financing, regulatory and reimbursement policy, industry leadership and governance in both for-profit and non-profit organizations complement Chairman Klein’s experiences and attributes. I would like to serve in the role of vice chairman and if elected I would use all my various experiences and energy to contribute as requested by the Chairman and the ICOC for advancing the purpose of this important cause."

The surprising delay of the vote will give ICOC members more time to think about exactly what attributes the vice chair should have.  For some members the decision could come down to this: If Roth loses, he remains on the board and presumably continues as the productive member many think he has been. Torres would be a new player, bringing strong political connections to Sacramento and Washington — but does the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) really need and benefit from that?

Consumer Watchdog
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