President Mills Leaving, CIRM Needs New Leader to Navigate Future Challenges

Randy MillsCIRM announced today that its President and CEO, Randy Mills, is soon leaving for a new job as President of the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match in Minnesota. Update: Dr. Maria Millan, the CIRM Vice President of Therapeutics, will be its leader starting July 1 until a new leader is chosen.

For this kind of position three years is a relatively short tenure so CIRM will need to scramble a bit to keep continuity and momentum as it searches for and ultimately puts in place a new leader. It’s a critical time for CIRM as it and its allies consider big picture strategy for the future, approaches to future funding such as a possible new proposition for state funding (Prop 71 2.0), and how to continue all those exciting clinical trials and research beyond the current period of its funding.

In general, Mills had a big positive impact on CIRM and helped it go to the next level. About the only thing I wasn’t a fan of in terms of his leadership was my perception of his negativity toward the FDA and toward FDA oversight of stem cells, and how that manifested at CIRM during his time there. But good people can strongly disagree on policy. We’ll have to wait and see how the regulatory experiment of stem cell provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act, which Mills may have helped to make possible, will impact regenerative medicine in terms of changes in FDA oversight. It could also impact CIRM too.

Now CIRM’s Board has an exciting, difficult task ahead. Who do they want as their new leader to tackle CIRM’s challenge? What kind of background and future vision? The priorities, leadership skills, and vision of the new leader are likely to together be a major factor in CIRM’s future success. Who are the top possible candidates out there right now? I’m going to do a follow-up, future post on these questions and CIRM’s future.

Top 20 Stem Cell Predictions for 2017

stem cell crystal ball

Stem cell crystal ball

Each year I make a list of predictions for the stem cell and regenerative medicine field for the coming new year. Later in this post I list my top 20 stem cell predictions for 2017. In looking at my past predictions I realized this will now be my 7th year doing stem cell/regenerative medicine yearly predictions.

You can see below links to these predictions for past years, which sometimes seems rather far removed from today and in other cases strike me as strangely apropos of our times.

What will 2017 bring? Below are my top 20 predictions in no particular order except starting with a few hopeful visions for the coming year.

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TGIF Science: funding, CRISPR v. NgAgo, secrets, Zika, & more

Some stuff on my mind for our TGIF Science this week.

Research Funding Ups: NIH. Is it my imagination or is NIH funding slightly improving? This is the overall vibe I’m hearing from the trenches.

TGIF science dart board

Modified Wikipedia image

Research Funding Ups and Downs: CIRM.  CIRM funded some basic research to the tune of a total of $4 million, which is great. On a personal level, just wish my “great idea” had fared better in review there. Kind of a downer, but after a while you get a really thick skin.

I’m still trying to decide what I think of CIRM 2.0’s grant review, especially their “positive” pre-review where there is no scoring or comments. You either make it or are triaged with no explanation or score given to applications. No sour grapes here from me on this particular DISC1 CIRM grant review, but even though my proposal made the cut to get fully reviewed, the actual review was too short, just a handful of vague sentences in total. That’s not helpful.

Secret genome meeting? I’m still scratching my head over that “secret” meeting on a synthetic human genome over at Harvard. They closed the door on the public, the press, etc. The reason given was that a journal had embargoed the heck out of ideas that would be presented at the meeting or something like that. 

CRISPR obsolete soon? George Church was quoted that CRISPR will be obsolete soon because of synthesizing entire genomes from scratch instead (see secret meeting entry above). Then of course there’s the upstart NgAgo that could be simpler and with broader applicability than CRISPR. What do you think of CRISPR versus NgAgo?

My sense is that talk of CRISPR obsolescence is premature kind of like Mark Twain’s quote that reports of his death were exaggerated.

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Stem cell headlines: half a genome, Australian snake oil, CRISPR patent battle

embryo human

Wikimedia Photo

There’s a lot going on in the world of stem cells making for many striking headlines lately.

Here are some stem cell headlines that caught my attention.

Haploid Stem Cells Created. Could these cells be used to make germ cells?

Charlatans and snake-oil salesmen ‘hijacking stem cell therapies’ in Australia

In the CRISPR patent fight, the Broad Institute gains edge. The CRISPR-Cas9 patent chess match continues and some think Broad has slight advantage at this point.

CIRM grant to fund proposed stem cell trials for ALS. Go CIRM 2.0.

Removing Epigenetic Post-it Notes Returns Stem Cells to Unprimed State. Epigenetics is a very cool field.

Kirk, Manchin, Collins Introduce REGROW ACT, which if passed would dangerously weaken FDA oversight of stem cells. Stay tuned for more on this bill later this week.

Weekend science reading: fantastic found links

glioblastoma

Glioblastoma, image from Wikipedia

David Jensen reports on the future of CIRM as a “beautiful machine”.

CIRM funds brain cancer research in a big way: Funding a clinical trial for deadly cancer is a no brainer. Glioblastoma is a fatal tumor that needs new clinical approaches so this is exciting. One of the goals of my lab is to find new pathways to treat glioblastoma in children.

Jacob Corn of IGI has a Wish List for Science on CRISPR science, but also science more generally.

The case for possibly retracting a retraction over at RetractionWatch.

Take another look at last year’s Takaho Endo paper, which was a major step toward debunking STAP so why did the new paper in Nature debunking STAP using similar approach not cite Dr. Endo’s 2014 paper? I’m glad to see that the other new Nature paper did cite Dr. Endo’s paper.

Pete Shanks over at BioPolitical Times from CGI voices concerns about balance at upcoming NAS meeting on human gene editing.

Zhang’s lab reports on Cpf1, a useable new CRISPR partner protein in place of Cas9 and Antonio Regalado has the backstory: New CRISPR Protein Slices through Patent Problems

The Node on Enabling research with human embryonic and fetal tissue resources

The tiny fingers that touch stem cells from David Kent on Signals Blog