CALIFORNIA STEM CELL CHIEF RE-ELECTED FOR SIX MONTHS
By Don C. Reed
Last night, Bob Klein, chair of California’s stem cell program, was re-elected for six months. Former Senator Art Torres and Duane Roth were re-elected as vice-Chairs.
When Alexander the Great lay dying, legend has it that his greatest generals gathered around him. Tension mounted, as each looked surreptitiously at the other, and then back at the man who had conquered most of the world—until finally someone dared to ask the question everyone was thinking:
“Alexander—to whom goes the kingdom?”
And Alexander smiled, and said: “To the strongest.”
After his passing, the generals fought amongst each other, and Alexander’s empire crumbled into dust.
For eight years, Bob Klein has worked tirelessly to develop and lead the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine CIRM).
He took out a loan on his house to finance the campaign to pass Proposition 71, the Stem Cells for Research and Cures Act. Leading the citizens’ initiative, he also donated his life savings, to keep the effort alive. As chair, he worked without salary for the first four years, before finally being forced to accept part-time pay.
Now, Klein is physically and financially exhausted. Several members of his family have serious medical conditions. He needs to rest, and recover, especially since he will undoubtedly fight to protect the funding of the program when it runs dry in 2014.
But California needs him for a little while longer, to help choose the best possible candidate to take his place.
A frequent critic of the program, John Simpson, opines that Klein should “get out of the way” and take no part in the choice of his successor.
This misunderstands the nature of the man.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was approaching his fourth term as President, he requested that Harry Truman be considered for Vice President.
“This time, it matters,” he said, knowing his physical condition would probably not allow him to finish out his term.
He died in office. The nation mourned, and many worried that his great achievements would be swept away.
But Roosevelt was right about Harry Truman: a tough fighter, a savvy insider, and a man of honor. Because of his skills and strengths, America kept what it had won, and Social Security and unemployment insurance still provide a safety net for the aged and the poor.
Which example of a leader’s passing would serve California best? Alexander, who soared across the heavens like a shooting star—and then vanished? Or Roosevelt’s careful departure from the scene, which allowed old people like me to keep their Social Security, and provided a measure of protection for those whose jobs were snatched away?
California’s stem cell program, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM, is a magnificent beginning, which must be nurtured and protected.
After the meeting was over, everyone present was invited to visit the just-completed Larry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research building, one of twelve research buildings which the CIRM began.
It was late at night. But within those walls, among the still unpacked boxes, scientists were already working on the long hard years of effort it will take to bring cures.
Their efforts must be protected, for the sake of everyone who has a family member affected by chronic disease or disability.
The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee will vote on the nominees, whoever they are.
Until that vote is taken, we need to retain the services of the man who began the program.
Klein’s initial recommendation of Alan Bernstein to succeed him as oversight committee chair was based on the Canadian’s unique experience: Bernstein helped build (and served as founding President of) a research institute very similar to CIRM, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He is also a patient advocate par excellence, being the inaugural executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine enterprise. But he is not eligible.
Whereby the search begins again.
In public comment time, my son Roman Reed approached the mike:
“As a longtime supporter of the California stem cell program, as someone who works for cure, and as a person in chair, I have often wondered about this day.
Nobody can replace Bob Klein. It was his vision that built this magnificent program, and he knows it inside and out. At every crisis, he has been there, guiding the ship through the storm.
I had always figured that the next chair would be either Duane Roth or Art Torres. Each has superlative and unique qualifications; each is strong, intelligent, dedicated and caring.
Duane Roth brings two key strengths to bear: his unparalleled connections and understanding of the biomedical field, because that is his life; and his often-demonstrated respect for the patient advocate community. He has often and publicly voiced his view that patient advocates deserve a place at the table, not as passive observers but participants.
Art Torres is a tremendous man of the people. From his days working with Cesar Chavez to his leadership roles in the Democratic party, he has never lost sight of the fact that a leader must look out for those who have the least; he has the strength of ten because his heart is pure– and also because he understands politics.
So I really was not looking forward to having to choose which one to support, and was almost hoping for a co-Presidency for these two outstanding men.
Fortunately, the one man whose qualifications trump everybody’s has agreed to serve for just a little more time. I am sure I speak for every patient advocate when I say we trust, support, and appreciate Bob Klein.”—Roman Reed.
How do the scientists feel about Bob Klein’s efforts? Here is a public letter from some of America’s finest, including two Nobel Prize winners:
Independent Citizens Oversight Committee
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
210 King Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dear ICOC Members,
We write in strong support of the nomination of Mr. Robert Klein to continue his service as Chair of the CIRM ICOC. We also enthusiastically support Mr. Klein’s proposal to find a successor who has substantial scientific and medical experience as well as personal familiarity with the burdens of disease.
As California stem cell scientists and physicians, our support for this course of action comes from our experience and conviction that the ICOC Chair needs to have an understanding of how to support the best research with the greatest chance of creating the medical breakthroughs with stem cells that we all desire. Specifically, the ICOC Chair must understand that merit-driven support of the highest quality and most opportunistic scientific and medical research with stem cells is the most reliable way to find new treatments for currently untreatable diseases. This approach has been taken by CIRM thus far and has already built a strong research and development pipeline. This pipeline runs from basic research with stem cells, through the application of these new findings to disease biology, and is beginning to drive the development of novel clinical applications derived from a new understanding of disease and its roots.
Mr. Klein has exhibited, through the success of CIRM thus far, that he has the necessary qualities to guide the ICOC through this transitional time and to work with the ICOC to identify an appropriately experienced successor. During this transition it is crucial to maintain momentum and continue to capitalize upon and cement the successes of CIRM. Mr. Klein’s leadership skills, and demonstrated understanding of the needs of scientific and medical research with stem cells, will help to ensure the needed and continued momentum. In fact, the recent outside review of CIRM strongly praised scientific and medical progress thus far and made several thoughtful and important recommendations for modifications of the agency’s approach to achieve success in the next stages. Mr. Klein’s experience will be crucial to begin implementing these changes during this transition, and a scientifically and medically savvy successor will be needed to drive CIRM to the successful achievement of its objectives.
In this regard, we stress, that our collective experience with the discovery of new approaches to the treatment of disease is that new solutions to currently intractable problems will come primarily from research that gives rise to new understanding of disease itself. On occasion, significant progress can also come from thoughtful application of existing knowledge, but either on its own is insufficient. Hence, it is crucial for the next ICOC Chair to have a deep understanding of both scientific and medical principles in order to balance short and long-term investment in stem cell research and clinical application.
Finally, we note the need for the ICOC Chair to not only possess scientific and medical expertise, but also the financial and administrative sophistication needed to help manage the complex challenges of national and multinational collaborations, and to work with the CIRM administration, California scientists, and patients themselves to achieve success.
In conclusion, a combination of scientific, medical, and financial expertise tempered with the human experience of disease will be essential to ensure proper stewardship of California taxpayer investments in stem cell science and medicine. Selecting an ICOC Chair with these skillsets will be essential to ensure that California taxpayers receive the medical benefits and economic growth that will come from our investment in CIRM. The ICOC Chair must also understand that the breakthroughs we need will not be quick or easy, hence the need for an individual with an understanding of the challenges to come and the experience to help surmount them. Mr. Klein has brought this understanding to the position of ICOC Chair, and his continued leadership will carry us through to the time when an appropriate successor with comparable qualities can be found.
We thank you for your continued service to the citizens of California and to the many people who suffer from the many terrible diseases that we are all working hard to treat successfully.
David Baltimore, Ph. D.
Professor of Biology
California Institute of Technology
Paul Berg, Ph. D.
Cahill Professor of Biochemistry and Cancer Research, Emeritus
Stanford University School of Medicine
Fred H. Gage, Ph. D.
Laboratory of Genetics
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Lawrence S.B. Goldstein
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Distinguished Professor, Department Of Cellular And Molecular Medicine
Director, UC San Diego Stem Cell Program
Catriona Jamieson, M.D. Ph.D.
Director, Stem Cell Research Program
Moores UCSD Cancer Center
Arnold Kriegstein, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF
John G. Bowes Distinguished Professor in Stem Cell and Tissue Biology
Department of Neurology
Jan A. Nolta, Ph.D.
Professor and Director, Stem Cell Program and Institute for Regenerative Cures
University of California, Davis
Martin Pera, Ph. D.
Professor of Cell and Neurobiology
W.M.Keck Chair of Medicine
Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research
Keck School of Medicine
University of Southern California
Robert Tjian, Ph.D.
President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Professor, Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley
Irving L. Weissman, M.D.
Director, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
Director, Stanford Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell Research and Medicine
Professor of Pathology and Developmental Biology
Owen N. Witte, M.D.
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Director, Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research
Professor of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics
Professor of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
And the outcome of the vote?
Bob Klein was re-elected as temporary Chair, and Art Torres and Duane Roth will serve again as vice-Chairs.
California is well-served.
Onward, and upward!