Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Mills' Departure: Surprise and Concern About California Stem Cell Agency

Disappointment, shock and surprise are surfacing in the wake of the news that Randy Mills is leaving his post as CEO of the California stem cell agency. However, the news drew little attention in the media.

Mills, 45, yesterday announced that he will depart at the end of June to become head of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis. Maria Millan, vice president for therapeutics, will take over on an interim basis while the agency's  board decides on a permanent successor.

The agency is entering what will be the last three years of its life unless it can round up additional funding. It has relied almost entirely on money borrowed by the state (bonds) which is expected to run out by June 2020.

Mills' unexpected move triggered expressions of dismay and amazement. "Wow!" was the one-word, email remark from a Southern California scientist, who declined to be identified.

Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, said in an email,
"I don’t understand why Randy Mills would leave CIRM now, when the rebirth of CIRM that he initiated is beginning to succeed.  I would have expected him to follow through on his vision.  I’m disappointed."
Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis stem cell researcher, said in an email,
"Overall CIRM has prospered under Mills’ leadership with important, concrete accomplishments during his tenure. The agency's current trajectory is also very positive. He deserves a lot of credit for the positive impact he has brought to CIRM in just three years. The timing of his departure probably isn’t ideal as CIRM looks to the future with some challenges such as the nature of future funding for the agency and three years is a short tenure, but just as Mills brought in a new, helpful vision, the next leader may likewise provide new ideas and energy to successfully tackle the next phase for CIRM. Who that new leader ends up being could make all the difference for CIRM’s future so it’s a crucial decision. I’ll be curious how the Board approaches this challenge, and I’m excited to see what develops."
Knoepfler also posted more of his thoughts in an item on his blog.

John M. Simpson, stem cell maven for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said,
"Dr. Mills made substantial contributions to the agency during his tenure, improving both efficiency of the grant making process and transparency of CIRM's operations. Given the uncertain future as CIRM's current funding winds down, it is not at all surprising that he has opted to move onto another opportunity.
"Significantly, unlike the departure of his predecessor Dr. Alan Trounson, this move does not appear to raise any  conflicts of interest."
Another scientist who could not be identified said Mills' departure could lead to the loss of others of the 46 agency employees.

On the media side, Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times wrote a straightforward piece on Mills' departure. Alex Lash of Xconomy offered a lengthier take. He covered some of the history of the agency along with the status of some its current projects. The Sacramento Bee carried a freelance piece by yours truly as well.
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