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ZACH HALL RETIRES FROM CALIFORNIA STEM CELL INSTITUTE

After creating a framework for California's new stem cell institute, Zach Hall, PhD, announced in December that he will step down as president within the next six months.

“We're actually in good shape after a tough two years,” said Dr. Hall, age 69, who was named head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in March 2005. “We can see the end of the litigation against us. We've been loaned $150 million from the governor and raised $45 million from philanthropic institutions and individuals, so we've funded stem cell research at 16 institutions. We've put in an infrastructure and the board approved a strategic plan last week, so I think the Institute is in good shape. It's that time in my life when I'm ready to move on to another phase.”

Dr. Hall, who was for many years a neurobiologist and department chair at the University of California-San Francisco, became the director of the NINDS in 1994, where he awarded more than $500 million a year in grants and contracts to investigators across the country. He also served as executive vice chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco, director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, and senior associate dean at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

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Dr. Zach Hall: “Weve put in an infrastructure and the board approved a strategic plan last week, so I think the Institute is in good shape. Its that time in my life when Im ready to move on to another phase.”

Dr. Hall brought outstanding organizational skills to the task of building the CIRM, according to Jeanne Loring, PhD, co-director of Stem Cell Institute at Burnham Institute for Stem Cell Research in La Jolla, CA.

“He took the CIRM from nothing to a granting agency in record time,” she said. “Having Zach Hall in charge made it an agency that extracted the best of the NIH without the heavy bureaucracy. I think he was the perfect fit for job. Replacing him will be hard.”

OVERCOMING LEGAL CHALLENGES

The CIRM was created after the passage in 2004 of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, which authorized $3 billion of taxpayer money for 10 years to fund stem cell research at California institutions.

Progress was halted when groups including opponents to stem cell research filed lawsuits challenging the legality of the plan. Last July, when President Bush vetoed federal legislation that would have expanded federal funding and access to stem cell lines, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed the state finance department to approve a $150 million loan to the CIRM.

The lawsuits had prevented the state from making funds available to the Institute, but a judge in Alameda County Superior Court has upheld the institute's legality, and an appeal to the California Supreme Court is expected to fail. [For more on the lawsuits, see Neurology Today's “California Stem Cell Institute Inches Along While Awaiting Lawsuit Outcome,” May 16, 2006; pages 10–11.] The prospect of this legal success has enabled CIRM to attract loans from the state and from philanthropists. Earlier this year the Institute issued grants worth $12.1 million to train new stem cell scientists, and is expected to award about 30 grants in February.

Dr. Hall's term was up last summer, but he stayed on because the Institute seemed “unsteady,” as he put it. “I felt I couldn't leave,” he said. “I thought it was important to show commitment and continuity, so I said I'd stay on as president for a period of time. That was a year ago in September. By the time I leave I'll have stayed two years. I got the Institute launched. It's in great shape.”

Dr. Hall said he and his wife, who recently retired as a musician with the San Francisco Symphony, hope to retire to Wyoming, where they have a house.