CIRM Leadership

Maria T. Millan, President and CEO

Maria Millan, Vice President of Therapeutics

Dr. Maria Millan is a physician-scientist who has devoted her career to treating and developing innovative solutions for children and adults with debilitating and life-threatening conditions. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Duke University where she first entered the arena of immunology research, she returned to her home in New Jersey where she obtained her M.D. and then went on to complete her surgical training and post-doctoral research in Boston at Harvard Medical School – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  After a transplant surgery fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine, she began her academic career with a busy pediatric and adult transplant surgery practice focused on technical advancements and optimization of patient outcomes, including the treatment of rare fatal diseases.  In parallel, she continued her bench research at Stanford and was promoted within 5 years to Associate Professor and the Director of the Pediatric Organ Transplant Program.  She served on multiple leadership teams including the Faculty Senate and the Dean’s faculty committee at Stanford University School of Medicine and served on the Children’s Hospital operations committee and currently serves on the editorial board for Stem Cell Translational Medicine and multiple non-profit boards advancing initiatives in health and in growing the healthcare industry ecosystem in California and beyond.  She has published in the areas of cell biology, immunology, and clinical organ transplantation.  

With early signals from the science that stem cell and regenerative medicine therapy was the new frontier for medicine, she ventured into the private sector in 2006 to join StemCells, Inc., one of the earliest stem cell organizations and the first to enter into an FDA regulated clinical trial with a stem cell treatment for children with a fatal neurodegenerative disease.  Dr. Millan then joined the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in December 2012 where she led the formation of the Alpha Stem Cell Clinics Network, a network of California medical centers that specialize in rigorous and high quality clinical trials and top tier medical care for patients participating in these trials.  This clinical network is now composed of seven medical centers and their affiliated hospitals across California and has supported over 130 clinical trials to date. As a key component of CIRM’s bold 5-year strategic plan launched in 2016, which was designed to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs, Dr. Millan led the development of critical infrastructure, including specialized regulatory, preclinical research, manufacturing and clinical operations support for stem cell and regenerative medicine trials. In July 2017, Dr. Millan took on the role as President and CEO of CIRM and she was formally appointed by CIRM’s Board in September 2017.  Under her leadership, CIRM continues to drive the mission of accelerating stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs, is on track to achieve its 5-year strategic plan, has now funded a 64 clinical trials and is continuing to grow this robust portfolio of high quality programs by the month. In addition, she led the initiative to partner with the NHLBI to drive the “Cure Sickle Cell” Initiative and this is yielding a robust pipeline of cell and gene therapy projects that are on the way to clinical testing. 

Jonathan Thomas, Chairman, Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee (ICOC)

Jonathan Thomas, Chairman of CIRM BoardJon Thomas is a Co-Founding Partner at Saybrook Capital (“Saybrook”), an investment banking and private equity firm based in Santa Monica, California.

Long interested in the biological sciences, Thomas majored in Biology and History at Yale, where he graduated summa cum laude. As a George C. Marshall Scholar at Oxford, he then earned a PhD with a medical focus in Commonwealth History. He subsequently returned to Yale for a JD at the Yale Law School. While there, Thomas retained an involvement with biology by teaching courses on the legal implications of genetic engineering and the impact of disease on history.

Thomas has a long-standing commitment to patient advocacy. He spent more than 15 years on the Board of the Crippled Children’s Society of Southern California and served as chair for four years. The organization, now called AbilityFirst, assists children with spinal cord injuries and mental disabilities that could be targets of stem cell therapies. Thomas is an Honorary member of the AbilityFirst Board.

See his full bio here

Senator Art Torres (Ret.), Vice-Chair

Senator Art Torres (Ret.) was unanimously elected statutory Vice Chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing Board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  He is also Chair of the Governance Committee.  He is a colon cancer and osteoarthritis survivor.

Between 1996 and 2009, Torres served as the Chair of the California Democratic Party. He previously served twenty years in the California Legislature, eight as a member of the State Assembly and twelve as a State Senator. Torres chaired the Senate Insurance Committee, Senate Toxics Committee, the Assembly Health Committee, and the Senate Joint Committee on Science and Technology.

He is currently on the Board and Vice Chairman of "One Legacy," an organ transplant foundation in the US headquartered in Los Angeles.

He was recently appointed by the California State Senate to the five member board of Covered California which oversees Obamacare in California. He also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the UC Santa Cruz Foundation.

Senator Torres authored the California Clean Water Drinking Act, Proposition 65, and created the sole toxic reporting repository that helps scientists determine environmental and health impacts “a data source that really no one else has on the planet.” On November 18th, 2010 he was sworn in by then Mayor Gavin Newsom, to a four year term on San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission and later elected as its President before stepping down.

Senator Torres holds a Bachelor's Degree from UC Santa Cruz and a Juris Doctorate degree from UC Davis School of Law. He also served as a John F. Kennedy teaching fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

He previously served as a German Marshall Fund Fellow and was recently appointed as the University of San Francisco Diversity Scholar Visiting Professor.

See his full bio here

Maria Bonneville, Vice President of Administration, Executive Director to the CIRM Governing Board

Maria Bonneville, Director of Administration and Executive Director to the CIRM governing boardMaria Bonneville is the Vice President of Administration and the Executive Director to the Governing Board (ICOC) at CIRM and has been with the agency since 2011. Maria is in charge of a team with a wide range of skills but a common goal; this includes Communications, Information Technology, Human Resources and Board Relations. She works directly with the CIRM Board to advance CIRM’s mission, helping lead the development and coordination of Board policies and procedures. She also works with California state legislators and staff members to keep the public up to date on the full scope of CIRM’s activities.

Before joining CIRM, Maria was the Special Assistant to former Treasurer Bill Lockyer at the California State Treasurer’s office where she represented the Treasurer in state business matters with the state and local government and the business community in the Bay Area. She was also the Northern California Finance Director for the Lockyer Committee and was responsible for fundraising programs for the re-election of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for Treasurer. Maria also has extensive experience with product development, product marketing, E-commerce, and public relations.

She received a Bachelor of Arts in political sciences from the University of California Berkeley.

Abla Creasey, Vice President of Therapeutics and Strategic Infrastructure

Abla Creasey is the Vice President of Therapeutics and Strategic Infrastructure. As a previous Associate Director of Therapeutics and most recently, as Sr. Director of Strategic Clinical and Regulatory Infrastructure, Abla has been instrumental in building up CIRM’s clinical portfolio and in working closely with our grantees who attained three of the first 11 RMAT-expedited pathway designations from the FDA. She has worked with the Accelerating Center to launch novel accelerating resources for product development, regulatory strategy and pharmaco-economics. In her current role, Abla will ensure that the therapeutics team will continue to meet their big six strategic goals with integration of critical resources from the Clinical Advisory Panel program, Alpha Clinics and the Accelerating Center. 

Abla has broad and extensive experience in science, technology, and pharmaceutical product development.  Prior to joining CIRM in 2016, she was at Johnson & Johnson for 12 years. While at Johnson and Johnson, Abla was a Senior Scientific Director in Pharmaceutical Development & Manufacturing Sciences at Janssen and prior to that, she was, an Executive Director, heading drug delivery, pharmacology, analytical characterization, clinical & quality at Advanced Technologies & Regenerative Medicine (ATRM), another J&J company. Prior to ATRM, Abla was Vice President of Biological Sciences at ALZA Corporation, where she headed discovery efforts in formulation, preclinical and oral drug delivery. Before joining ALZA in 2004, Abla held senior-level positions in R&D, clinical development, and regulatory affairs within the biotechnology industry including Chiron Corporation and Cetus Corporation.

Abla received a B.S. in biology from the College of Notre Dame in Belmont California, and earned her Ph.D. in medical microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley.  She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine in infectious disease, biochemistry, and immunology.

Gil Sambrano, Vice President of Portfolio Development and Review

Gil Zambrano, Director of Portfolio Development and ReviewGil leads the team responsible for selecting the highest quality stem cell-based projects for CIRM funding from Discovery to Clinical programs.  His team builds and cultivates a world class team of expert reviewers and directs a rigorous review process through the governing board-appointed Grants Working Group (GWG).

Gil joined CIRM in 2005 as the first Scientific Officer. During his tenure, Gil has contributed to building the vision of CIRM by leading and advancing the scientific review process, constructing grants administration policies, guiding early development of the Grants Management System, and managing the training grant programs. He has been a key point of contact to help applicants and grantees identify appropriate partnering opportunities and navigate the CIRM solicitation and application process.  He leads the conduct of GWG review meetings and has been the primary liaison with patient advocate and scientific members of the GWG.

Prior to CIRM, he was an assistant professor in the department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF. In 2001, Gil took on a notable position to coordinate efforts of the Alliance for Cellular Signaling, a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary consortium of scientists led by the Nobel laureate, Alfred G. Gilman, whose goal is to understand the basic principles that regulate signal transduction in cells.

His scientific education includes a B.S. in biology from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the University of California, San Diego. Gil trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California San Francisco.

Shyam Patel, Director of Business Development

Shyam Patel, Director of Business Development

Shyam Patel is Director of Business Development and is responsible for managing CIRM’s Industry Alliance Program and strategic partnerships. Shyam’s team engages with the biotech industry to create visibility for CIRM’s mission and to facilitate industry partnership and commercialization opportunities for CIRM’s portfolio. Shyam led the expansion of CIRM’s Industry Alliance Program to establish a collaborative network of venture investors, biotech companies and large biopharma partners. He also manages CIRM’s partnerships including the Cure Sickle Cell partnership with NHLBI, iPSC repository partnership with Fujifilm CDI and data sharing collaboration with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Shyam joined CIRM in late 2016, initially as part of Dr. Sambrano’s Portfolio Development & Review team where he managed the application, review and approval processes for Discovery, Translational and Clinical Programs. Prior to CIRM, Shyam was CEO and Chief Science Officer for NanoNerve, Inc., where he and his team developed tissue engineered medical devices for tissue regeneration. He was also on the teaching faculty in Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in biomaterials, stem cells and tissue engineering and medical device development.

Shyam received a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the Universities of California Berkeley & San Francisco.

Jennifer Mielnicki Lewis, Director of Grants Management and Acting Director of Finance

Jennifer Mielnicki Lewis, Director of Grants and Operations

Jennifer Mielnicki Lewis is the Director of Grants Management and Acting Director of Finance at CIRM leading the team that ensures the agency’s award and financial management policies and processes are fair, efficient, consistent and positioned to drive CIRM’s strategic goals. Jennifer joined the grants management team at CIRM in 2016. Her responsibilities include managing a diverse portfolio of grants, overseeing the implementation of infrastructure and database enhancements, interpreting and revising policy, and supporting funding partnerships.

Before joining CIRM, Jennifer was a senior member of the program team at the Stuart Foundation where she made funding recommendations, created grantee communications, and developed system and process enhancements. Jennifer’s experience has focused on operational roles spanning the philanthropic, nonprofit, private and government sectors. She also has knowledge in organizational development, project management, and community outreach.

Jennifer received a Bachelor of Hospitality Administration from Boston University and holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ben Huang, Acting General Counsel

As Acting General Counsel, Ben works with the President and CEO of CIRM, the Chairman, the Governing Board, and the entire CIRM team in developing strategies to implement CIRM’s mission.  He is also responsible for reviewing Grantees’ intellectual property disclosures and reports, enforcing CIRM’s policies, and handling contracts and other day-to-day legal matters.

Ben joined the legal team at CIRM in 2013 and initiated the intellectual property and licensing review of Applicants and Grantees.  He also drafted the current iteration of the CIRM Intellectual Property regulations. 

After law school graduation, Ben practiced patent and trademark prosecution, intellectual property litigation, and technology licensing in Dallas, Austin and Washington D.C.  He joined Geron Corporation in the Bay Area where he worked on the legal issues in launching the first human clinical trial of embryonic stem cells.

Ben graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with degrees in Plan II Liberal Arts Honors and Chemical Engineering, earned a Master’s in Genetics from North Carolina State University and received his Juris Doctor from Duke University School of Law, where he was Managing Editor of the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law.