Stem Cell Institute Names Its Chief Scientific Officer

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Physician has advised board on grants

Marie Csete, an Emory University physician and researcher who specializes in transplant anesthesiology as well as stem cells, was named yesterday to lead the scientific mission at California’s stem cell institute.

“In some ways, I feel like I have been practicing for this job my whole life,” said Csete, who will help direct what science the state will fund as the institute’s chief scientific officer.

Csete, 54, is already experienced with the groundbreaking institute’s staff and its mission to distribute $3 billion in taxpayer funds to fuel stem cell research and bring new therapies to market.

After earning a medical degree at Columbia University, Csete worked as an anesthesiologist for 15 years, specializing in liver transplant surgery. In 2000, she earned a doctorate in biology, specializing in stem cells, from Caltech in Pasadena. She said she wanted to work in the field of stem cell biology so she could bridge the research and clinical professions to help get stem cell biology moving toward therapies.

“I can’t think of a better job to do that in than this position, so I am very excited,” she said of her new job.

Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a well-known stem cell researcher, said it was Csete’s clinical and research experience, as well as expertise in immunology issues, that give her the critical skills needed for what is one of the top four positions at the institute.

“We are delighted that Marie has chosen to relocate to California to join the CIRM,” Trounson said.

Csete has been working at Emory in Atlanta since 2002 and is in charge of the school’s core stem cell facility. Previously, she was at the University of Michigan.

Since the California stem cell institute’s inception in 2005, Csete has been a member of the committee of scientists from outside the state who review grant applications and recommend to the board which should receive funding.

Dr. Stuart Orkin, who heads Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s pediatric oncology department as well as the stem cell institute’s grants review committee, said Csete’s leadership “will ensure that CIRM meets its potential for the state of California.”

Csete, who hopes to start April 1, will be paid $310,000 annually.

That salary is $40,000 above the initial range set for the job, but the institute’s board voted yesterday to increase five of the top salary ranges.

The institute had hired a consultant to conduct a survey of University of California and biotechnology industry salaries to determine whether it was offering pay that would attract and retain talented staff.

Initially, some board members criticized the proposed tops to the pay ranges. The pay scales have since been reduced. Adjusting the ranges does not trigger increases in any current institute salaries, said Don Gibbons, an institute spokesman.

The range for the chief scientific officer was $180,000 to $270,000, but the top of the range was increased to $332,000.

The president and chairman’s pay range, previously $275,000 to $412,000, now tops out at $508,750.

Among the other increases, the general counsel’s salary, which ranged from $150,00 to $225,000, can now be as much as $277,500.

That’s more than the state attorney general’s salary, said John Simpson of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. Simpson said the institute should not be increasing salaries during a budget crisis.

“Moreover, CIRM is using the wrong basis for comparison; they should compare their top-level salaries to what’s paid at the (National Institutes of Health).”
Terri Somers: (619) 293-2028; [email protected]

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