Will Salaries Sink CIRM?

Lloyd Billingsley: The Los Angeles Times is editorializing that outlandish salaries at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will “will go a long way toward assuring the institute’s extinction.” But the Times is leaving out another factor that could sink the state stem cell institute, created by Prop 71 in 2004 and spending $3 billion in bond funds to create miraculous cures for cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases by conducting embryonic stem cell research the Bush administration refused to support.

As the Times’ Jack Dolan has noted, CIRM, which has a staff of 50, is paying incoming chairman Jonathan Thomas $400,000, roughly twice the salary of the director of the federal National Institutes of Health, which has 17,000 employees. Top-heavy CIRM also has a president, Alan Trounson, who pulls down $490,008, a good deal more than the $173,048 salary of the governor.

CIRM chose Thomas over cardiologist Frank Litvack, who would have accepted a salary of $123,000. The selection of Jonathan Thomas is not the first time CIRM has opted for a higher priced alternative. In 2009, CIRM board member Duane Roth, experienced in biotechnology, offered to serve as vice-chair for no salary. CIRM opted to make Roth co-vice-chair along with former state senator Art Torres, and tripled Torres’ initial salary of $75,000 to $225,000.

CIRM is beating the drum for more public funds but voters have more than salary and oversight issues to consider. The federal government no longer blocks embryonic research so CIRM has no legitimate reason to exist. The state agency is also a bust on its promises.  A ballpark figure for the number of CIRM cures and therapies that have trickled down to patients is zero, as even their own scientists acknowledge.

JULY 8, 2011

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