Two Candidates Nominated to Lead California Stem Cell Agency

Southern California investor Jonathan Thomas and cardiologist turned entrepreneur Frank Litvack have been nominated to lead the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Whomever is elected by the board of the stem cell institute when it meets on 23 June will replace real estate developer Robert Klein, who spearheaded the 2004 ballot initiative that created CIRM and has served as its first and only chair.

During Klein's tenure, the agency has had its share of controversy, but has also won praise for building infrastructure for the burgeoning field. A December 2010 report by external scientists concluded that a major priority for the agency going forward should be translating these gains in basic science into therapies. Klein was scheduled to finish his term in December, but after a rocky nomination process failed to produce a viable candidate, the CIRM board reelected Klein to serve a 6-month term until a replacement could be found.

Three of the four state officials charged with nominating a chairperson nominated Thomas, a founding partner at Saybrook Capital in Santa Monica. In his nomination letter, state treasurer Bill Lockyer, wrote that: "Mr. Thomas' experience as a public finance investment banker, attorney, board member of various governmental agencies, and board member of the Crippled Children's Society of Southern California, as well as his lifelong background, education and interest in biology and medical sciences, makes him exceptionally well-suited to fill the role."

State Controller John Chiang bucked the trend, nominating Litvack, whom he praised for a "unique combination of skills" and experience as a clinician, researcher, and entrepreneur. Litvack is currently a partner or chair of several medical technology companies. "Dr. Litvack knows from personal experience what it takes to develop new medical technologies and move them through the regulatory process to adoption in the marketplace," Chiang wrote in his nomination letter.