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First, for those who may have wondered why I have not blogged much of late, two reasons: 1. I am contracted to produce a book on the stem cell struggle and it is a major effort; 2. I have been negotiating a personal battle with cancer--surgery done, radiation yet to come...

Now, onto the big news!


By Don C. Reed

For those who wonder why I have not written many blogs of late: first, I am contracted to write a book on the stem cell struggle and am giving that a major effort; second, I have been dealing with a cancer adventure of my own.  (Surgery is over; radiation yet to come.)

Now: the big news.

Yesterday, April 30, 2014, we learned who would be the new President of the California stem cell program.  Current President Alan Trounson will be retiring after six years in office, returning to his native Australia to spend more time with his family.

I had no clue about his replacement.  All I could find out was there had been “dozens of candidates”, then seven top finalists, and one who really stood out…

An executive search company (Korn/Ferry) had been hired to do an international talent search. Senior Partner Warren Ross, M.D. spoke enthusiastically about the stem cell program, and the quality of the people being interviewed.

This was a board decision. The finalists were exhaustively interviewed by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC, or board of directors).

Today, the final selection would be announced.

ICOC Chair Jonathan Thomas summed up the situation: “…CIRM’s portfolio…in cellular therapy and regenerative medicine is second to none.  We’ve had tremendous growth over the past ten years in terms of funding research, currently in 39 incurable diseases and conditions.

“We now reach a time in our CIRM life… where we want to place increasing emphasis on project developments getting (into) clinical trials…
--State stem cell agency hires new president, C. Randall Mills”, Erin Allday,, April 30, 2014

Randy Mills, former President and CEO of Maryland-based Osiris, was announced as the new President of the California stem cell program.

His background? Extensive and varied: for instance:

“During his 10-year tenure at Osiris, Mills oversaw the first commercialization of a stem cell drug, Prochymal, which is used to treat acute graft-versus-host disease in children. The deadly disease is a complication of bone marrow transplants.”
--Los Angeles Times, “C. Randall Mills to head California’s stem cell agency”, Monte Morin and Eryn Brown, April 30,2014

Someone who knew him well had this to say:

“Over the years, what has impressed me most about Randy is the consistent sense of urgency he has toward helping patients in need. Those of us who work in this field know that the potential of regenerative medicine is enormous. However, Randy has demonstrated the unique ability to turn that potential into reality.  He will make a great President at CIRM, and will keep the organization focused on developing and delivering stem cell-based technologies that improve patient’s lives.”—Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, quoted in CIRM press release.

And in the new President’s own words?

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected to lead the world’s largest stem cell institute during such an exciting and pivotal time for the technology,” Mills said, “We are entering a new phase in regenerative medicine, where an increasing number of therapies are heading into clinical trials. It is our mission to do everything possible to accelerate the development of these treatments for the patients who need them.”
--Baltimore Sun, “Former Osiris chief to lead California stem cell agency”, Natalie Sherman, April 30th, 2014

He had worked with CIRM before, as a member of the out-of-state review board, which studies and makes recommendations on stem cell projects being considered.

Initial impression: he appears very strong. Later research shows that he had worked his way through college in the emergency room, so he has a strong sense of urgency for the work at hand. About himself, he stressed that he was “patient centered... We are going to work relentlessly for the benefit of the patients and the people of the state of California.”

His acceptance speech was very short. Add up all the above quotes, and that is pretty much all he said. He acknowledged that brevity saying,  “Well-done is better than well-said”, in conclusion.  

And then the lights went out. An electrical power failure shut down the power in the hotel.

 A moment of blackness, and then the backup lights kicked on.

He made a little joke about it—and then the work went on.

My impression? Overwhelmingly positive: I feel that he has already identified with the California stem cell program, and will give it his all.

In the public comment period, I said:  

“You are entering the greatest government program in the world. Research decisions you influence, and executive actions you carry out, will affect the lives of millions, and, in Shakespeare’s words, “echo down the corridors of time”.

“You will be exhausted often, because there is just too much to do.

“But you will be supported always, not only by a fantastic staff, but also by the patient advocate community.

“On behalf of all who work in the cause of cure, we welcome you, and pledge our support.”

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