Stem cell agency’s chief science officer quits

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Dr. Marie Csete has resigned as chief science officer at California’s stem cell agency effective Aug. 1 after a little more than a year with the organization.

I’d say her departure after such a short tenure — and with no clear indication of where she is headed next — speaks volumes about CIRM’s management.  Or should I say, mismanagement.

One doesn’t walk away from a $310,000 a year job at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) without a very good reason. Members of CIRM’s oversight board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), must demand an explanation from Chairman Bob Klein and President Alan Trounson.

Here’s the message to board members from Csete:

To ICOC Members:
I have decided to resign my position at CIRM as of August 1, 2009.  I am sorry and disappointed that I was unable to say goodbye to you at the last ICOC meeting.  I look forward to seeing your many successes!

Csete holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D. degree and like predecessor, Dr. Arlene Chiu, was highly respected for her professionalism. Under Csete’s leadership the science office worked closely to monitor the progress of research grantees. Recently she announced that three grants were being revoked for lack of progress.

Reading her message, I’m left with the feeling that Klein and Trounson knew of Csete’s plans before last week’s ICOC meeting in San Diego.  I understand "unable to say goodbye" to mean "was told not to." Her impending departure should have been discussed — even in executiuve session — and it was not.

In the e-mail to ICOC board members was a boilerplate sort of message from Trounson to the institute’s staff:

As you have heard from Marie, she plans to leave CIRM at the end of July. In just a little more than a year she has made highly valuable contributions to our science operations coalescing a new set of core grants and organizing a number of workshops that have invigorated our scientific discourse and changed the direction of many of our programs. She has been a highly respected representative of CIRM at countless meetings nationally and internationally. I think you all would agree that our mission has been advanced by her efforts. Please join me in thanking her and wishing her luck going forward.

In a cover note to the ICOC board members, Melissa King, Board Executive Director, wrote:

Bob wanted you to have these messages (below), from Marie and Alan. We will be working on a succession plan for Marie. Bob would like to talk to each of you to get your thoughts, and he and I will work on that in the coming days.

The right place to start is providing a clear explanation of why Csete is leaving.  And while Klein and Trounson are at it, an explanation of what prompted the departure of Chiu would be more than a little helpful. Something is wrong when two top women scientists don’t stay around at CIRM.

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