This week we held two events to introduce our new President, C. Randal Mills, to our biggest supporters, the researchers we fund and the patient advocates who are looking to stem cell science for treatments and cures. The events were at our offices in San Francisco and at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles (we are holding a third event in San Diego on June 24th as part of the BIO2014 conference)
Randy began by saying that he has a simple guiding principle; that everything we do at the agency should be “all about the patients”. In fleshing that out he identified four criteria that he will use in making any decision:
1. Will it speed up the development of treatments for patients
2. Will it increase the likelihood of developing a successful treatment for patients
3. Will it meet an unmet medical need
4. Is it efficient
He says those criteria will help make sure that everything we do at the stem cell agency is in alignment with our goals; that we aren’t funding work that could easily attract funding from other agencies or even the pharmaceutical industry.
Randy says he wants to come in every day knowing that everyone at the agency is working as hard as they can, “working as if people’s lives depended on it; because people’s lives do depend on us. There is a real urgency to what we do. The work we do can help save lives. We can’t afford to let people down.”
For the scientists Randy said his goal was to give them as much support as they needed, particularly in the areas where they may not be very experienced – such as moving products into clinical trials, getting approval from regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and commercializing a potential therapy.
“I’m a great believer in not trying to teach fish to fly. I want the fish, our researchers, to swim as fast as they can, to do the best research they can, and we can help with all the other elements involved in moving a product out of the lab and into clinical trials and ultimately into patients.”
Before being appointed as President at the end of April Randy worked as President and CEO at Osiris Therapeutics, a company that specialized in the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a kind of stem cell found in bone marrow that helps form bones, cartilage and fat among other things. Asked if that experience with MSCs would influence his time at the agency he said no:
“When it comes to stem cells, when it comes to technology, I am completely agnostic. I don’t care about particular cell types; I care about the people that we are here to help. So I want to take whatever is the best cell for the job, whatever is the best, most effective technology for the job and use those, support those, to speed up the development of therapies for patients.”
While he has been a member of our Grants Working Group review panel for five years and has a good grasp of the different kinds of research that we fund Randy said this is still very much a learning period for him; a time to talk to, and listen to as many people and listen to as many people as possible as he settles in to his new position.
As he looks forward to where the agency is going he says he is very positive and excited at being part of something truly unique:
“One of the ways I think about decision making is asking; “if this were our child what would we do?” And that motivates me every day. If we do this really well, if we succeed, we are going to have such a profoundly transformative effect on people’s lives.”