Financier Jonathan Thomas chosen to head California stem cell agency 

In a narrow vote, a financier has been chosen to lead California’s public stem cell research agency.

Late Wednesday, the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine chose its next chairman, Jonathan Thomas, by a vote of 14 to 11. Thomas beat out scientist and entrepreneur Frank Litvack.

Thomas, an investment banker with a smattering of science in his background, will take the helm from longtime chairman Robert Klein. Klein authored the ballot measure that created the $3 billion public agency in 2004, and became its chairman after voters approved it. Klein’s reign has been wracked with controversy because of his hands-on approach at the agency he was tasked with overseeing, which led to turnover among the agency’s chief executives.

Klein initially planned to step down from the agency last fall, but agreed to stay on for another six months after the candidate he supported to replace him withdrew from the pool amid accusations of backroom deals.

After that, the agency’s board attempted to arrive at some clarity about what they hoped to see in their next board chair, but failed to do so and ultimately chose to allow the candidates to pitch their own vision about the role – and pay – of the position.

In fact, the two candidates differed substantially in that vision. Thomas, like Klein, said he believed in a more full-time, hands-on approach, while Litvack supported a part-time oversight role.  It was reported by blogger David Jensen that Klein supported Thomas, though Klein denied backing any candidate.

Ultimately, the board split fairly close over the two candidates, with Thomas winning an 80-percent-time position by just a handful of votes.

Klein will officially resign Friday.

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