S.F. stem cell agency will meet to pick new boss 

A new president for the state’s stem cell agency could be announced as early as today, according to sources.

The San Francisco-based California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, is holding a special meeting of its Oversight Committee this morning to discuss presidential candidates and compensation. A majority of the 29-member board will participate from 18 different locations, via conference call. The meeting follows a session of the presidential search subcommittee Monday night.

Voters established the stem cell agency in 2004, through the passage of Proposition 71, which provided $3 billion in bond funding for stem cell research. CIRM’s first president, Zach Hall, a neuroscientist who previously worked for UCSF and the National Institutes of Health, resigned last month. He shepherded the agency through its formation, as well as a recently resolved legal challenge that tied up its funding.

Dale Carlson, a CIRM spokesman, said Monday that he "doubted" an announcement would be made today, but confirmed that the agency is "getting closer" to choosing a new president.

John Simpson, with the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a group that has been monitoring the efforts of the stem cell agency, said the signs point to a possible decision.

"They have played this close to the vest," Simpson said. "They’ve been worried about leaks."

In February, CIRM Chairman Robert Klein told The Examiner that some secrecy was needed in order to get the best candidate.

"There are candidates from all over the world that are being brought to us in nominations," Klein said. "That process has to remain confidential at this point, because those candidates are currently at some of the most prestigious research institutes in the world."

Oversight Committee member Jeff Sheehy couldn’t talk about specific candidates or when the presidential pick would be announced, but said he’s been "enormously pleased with all the candidates."

Sheehy, the former HIV/AIDS adviser to Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the recent veto of federal legislation by President Bush that would have provided money for more stem cell research made the work of California’s stem cell agency that much more vital.

To date, the stem cell agency has approved more than $158 million in scientific research grants and $50 million in funding to construct new research laboratories.

beslinger@examiner.com

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