At a board meeting for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine yesterday, President Alan Trounson said the organization needed to prepare to move laboratory research into clinical trials within four years. That, he said, means hiring a new vice president with corporate experience to work closely with industry and regulatory agencies and shepherd the work of the soon-to-be-funded disease teams.
The new vice president will replace the position of chief scientific officer, which is vacant since CSO Marie Csete resigned last month, saying that her opinions had been sidelined. (See the news story from Nature ) When Csete, who had previously worked on both embryonic stem cells and liver transplantation at Emory University, was hired, CIRM leadership emphasized her clinical and scientific expertise as important for translating basic research to human trials.
In the last organizational plan, Csete had reported to Trounson, and Patricia Olson, director of scientific activities, had reported to Csete. Science officers, who decide what kinds of grant programs will be offered, reported to Olson. Under the new organizational chart, Olson will report directly to President Trounson, as will the vice president of R&D. (The general counsel and the vice president of operations already report to Trounson).
Trounson said he’d spent much time talking to board members and industry in coming up with the new job description. Board member Jeff Sheehy and Board Chair Klein, who often disagree, both praised Trounson for this. However, several raised questions about what, precisely, the role would entail. What authority would the new VP have over the basic science program? Why would the new leader have a “vice president” title when Olson (who has been at CIRM since 2005) would be “executive director”? What did all those dotted lines on the organizational chart mean if not confusion?
Klein and Trounson said that the dotted lines indicate that people are expected to collaborate closely, and that the reason Olson didn’t have a vice-president title was that President Trounson would be expected to have a great deal of input into the scientific activities. They also said there would be further discussion to see what worked for the individuals involved.
Board member Claire Pomeroy thought the best idea would be to set up a structure that could outlast individuals; Klein thought it best to adapt people’s roles to individuals. (It’s an interesting question: CIRM is supposed to adapt as science matures, and CIRM itself is only supposed to exist for ten years, but some of its leaders go more quickly. Since 2007, CIRM has seen the resignation of former president Zach Hall and former chief scientific officers Arlene Chiu and Csete.)
Without the right person, Trounson said, promising research might not get to people. “If we don’t do this carefully and properly, we could drive projects up the hill toward the IND but not consummate it.” CIRM officials said that the job posting should be finalized over the next few weeks and the new vice-president hired within a few months. Communications officer Don Gibbons told me that several really good people had already put themselves forward for the job.