Alan Trounson, Ph.D., will step down as president of California’s stem cell agency, citing a desire to spend more time with his family in his native Australia.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) said Dr. Trounson has agreed to remain as president while the agency begins the search for a new president, at the request of CIRM’s governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC).
“The agency needs a full-time president, and I need to spend more time with my family. The two needs are incompatible, so it is necessary for me to step down as President. This was a very difficult decision to make,” Dr. Trounson said in a statement. “I have loved working at CIRM and being part of something truly pioneering—a revolution in stem cell science and medicine—but ultimately it came down to a choice between CIRM and a life including my family.”
A pioneer in the development of human in vitro fertilization, Dr. Trounson joined CIRM in late 2007, after serving as professor of stem cell sciences and founding director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Before joining CIRM, Dr. Trounson also founded the National Biotechnology Centre of Excellence, or the “Australian Stem Cell Centre,” and co-founded the Monash Institute for Reproduction and Development.
During his tenure, CIRM evolved from an agency focused on funding new stem cell facilities and the training of professionals to basic research followed by translational projects designed to speed development of new treatments for disease—the purpose that persuaded California voters to approve $3 billion in bonds to fund the agency when they passed Proposition 71 in 2004.
Earlier this year, CIRM approved the Alpha Stem Cell Clinics Network, a $70 million plan to create a new network of sites across California that are intended to function as a hub for stem cell clinical trials.
Yet during Dr. Trounson’s tenure, CIRM became enmeshed in several controversies that included the 2009 resignation of its cso, Marie Csete. It also faced criticism from watchdog groups and newspaper editorial pages that cited the six-figure-plus salaries paid to top executives, the presence of powerful ex-politicians in leadership roles, and especially conflicts of interest.
Those concerns have stemmed in part from the complicated structure of CIRM and the ICOC board, whose members include leaders from a broad cross-section of academic institutions, research institutions, biotechnology businesses, patient advocacy groups, and other entities with a stake in advancing stem cell research.
In December 2012, a committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that CIRM develop a sustainability plan for when its $3 billion in state bond funding from Proposition 71 runs out in 2017, in an agency-commissioned $700,000 study.