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State’s stem cell funds in good hands

The La Jolla Light applauds the selection of Richard Murphy to serve as interim president of California’s stem cell research institute - and we thank Murphy for taking the job.

Murphy, who served as head of La Jolla’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies from 2000 until earlier this year, put off retirement to accept a six-month contract to lead the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) until a permanent president is found. The institute, which was created by a voter initiative to oversee $3 billion in public funds for stem cell research, had previously asked Murphy to apply for the permanent presidency, but Murphy declined. We think his decision to agree to serve temporarily is a blessing for the state and for La Jolla.

Murphy led the Salk Institute through a difficult time for non-profit scientific institutions. Federal funding for scientific research, which provides a large portion of the institute’s funds, has stagnated under the Bush administration. Under Murphy, the Salk diversified its fund-raising sources and kept its vital research programs moving forward. He helped create a sensible expansion plan for the Salk that addresses the need for more space while respecting the natural and architectural beauty of the current facility and its surrounding areas.

Murphy takes over at the CIRM at a time when its own funding woes are coming to an end. The legal challenges which have held up the $3 billion in bond money have all been dismissed, and the money is starting to flow. La Jolla institutions including the Salk, the Burnham Institute and UCSD have done well in the early rounds of grants and are at the forefront of many areas of stem cell research. With Murphy in charge at the CIRM, those institutions should be in prime position to do even better when more grants are awarded.

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La Jolla was one of the finalists in the competition to house the CIRM’s headquarters, and our civic pride was wounded when San Francisco was declared the winner. Murphy has said that the loss wasn’t all that significant, and that where the money goes is more important than where it comes from. With a former La Jolla scientist now in charge of the state’s stem cell funding, we can say that wound has healed.