Former Assembly Speaker John Pérez eyes top state stem cell job

A major research facility of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine at UC Merced. (Photo: CIRM)

Two persons with deep ties to the University of California (UC) have been nominated for the position of chair of the governing board of the $12 billion California stem cell agency.

They are John A. Pérez, former chair of the UC board of regents and former leader of the state Assembly, and Emilie Marcus, executive strategy officer at the UCLA School of Medicine. It is now up to the 35-member stem cell agency board to choose between the two.

The position has an expected salary range that tops out at $632,000.

John A. Pérez (UC Photo)

The University of California’s various campuses have received more funds from the stem cell agency, known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), than any other institution.

UC’s total  — $1.2 billion — represents about 40 percent of the $3 billion that CIRM has awarded. UCLA alone has received $325.9 million, ranking it No. 2 in CIRM dollars behind Stanford University.

Over the years CIRM has been dogged by questions about conflicts of interest. About 80 percent of the billions it has awarded has gone to institutions that have or had links to members of its governing board, according to a 2020 analysis by the California Stem Cell Report. In 2011, a $700,000 study commissioned by CIRM itself recommended sweeping changes at CIRM to deal with conflict problems and other issues.

Pérez was elected to the state Assembly in 2008 and served until 2014. He became speaker in 2010. The position is often referred to as the second most powerful in state government, with the first being the governor. Pérez ran unsuccessfully for state controller in 2014. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the UC board of regents in 2014.

Emilie Marcus (UCLA Photo)

Marcus joined UCLA in 2018. UCLA’s website says that her responsibilities are “centered on envisioning the future of a diverse and inclusive academic medical center including the foundational pillars of medical education, research, clinical care, and community outreach.”

Before joining UCLA, she worked for more than 20 years at Cell Press. She was CEO of Cell Press and editor-in-chief at the highly regarded journal Cell.

Marcus earned a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University and conducted postdoctoral training at the UC San Diego and the Salk Institute.

As speaker of the Assembly, Pérez was deeply involved in implementation in California of the national Affordable Care Act. Prior to running for office, he worked actively in organized labor affairs. Pérez attended UC Berkeley but dropped out, citing family medical reasons, according to Wikipedia.

Pérez did not respond today to requests for comment by the California Stem Cell Report. Marcus said in an email, “I am very honored to be considered for this important role and am passionate about the mission and impact of CIRM. I am looking forward to engaging with the CIRM board and would be happy to speak with you once I have had a chance to connect with the board members.”

The position of both chair and vice chair are opening up in January because the current officeholders, Jonathan Thomas and Art Torres, are being termed out.

The only nominee for vice chair is Maria Bonneville, currently CIRM’s vice president of public outreach and board governance. She has been with CIRM since 2011. Prior to joining CIRM she was the special assistant to the then state treasurer Bill Lockyer.

The ballot initiative that created CIRM in 2004 stipulates that the chair and vice chair can only be elected by the CIRM board from candidates nominated by four constitutional officers: governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and state controller.

The election schedule calls for one or more meetings involving the nominees and the CIRM board to “conduct a pre-review of candidates.” Voting is scheduled for December. “Each of the nominees will be invited to make a brief public presentation before the board votes”  according to CIRM.

“Assuming the board elects a new chair and vice chair at (the December) meeting, we anticipate the new chair and vice chair will undertake their duties beginning in January 2023 in order to allow a brief transition,” the agency says.

Here is a look at how the selection of the CIRM chair worked in 2011.

Editor’s Note: Corrects reference to Pérez as Regents’ former chair, instead of current chair. David Jensen is a retired newsman. He has written about the stem cell agency since 2005 on his newsletter, the California Stem Cell Report, and is the author of “California’s Great Stem Cell Experiment.”

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