Stem Cell Agency Mourns the Loss of Duane Roth

San Francisco, CA – The sudden and tragic death of Duane Roth has deeply saddened everyone at the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Duane was more than just a valued member of our governing Board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), he was also a good friend and someone who played a hugely important role in shaping the decisions we made.

“On behalf of all the CIRM family, we mourn the loss of our colleague and dear friend Duane Roth,” said Jonathan Thomas, PhD, JD, Chair of the stem cell agency’s Board. “He was one of the true stewards of the mission, offering countless insights on the role of industry in the world of regenerative medicine and how best to drive therapies efficiently through to patients.  He was unfailingly a voice of reason and optimism and always sought to find ways to make things happen, refusing to take "no" for an answer.”

Duane died Saturday from injuries sustained in a bicycling accident on July 21.

“Today I woke to the tragic news of Duane's passing,” says Alan Trounson, PhD, President of the stem cell agency. “Such a wonderful life cut short so abruptly. We shall all miss him so very much. He was the optimism of CIRM, always supportive and so willing to guide us. He was my confidant for the time I have been at CIRM and provided me with the energy and direction necessary at times in the absence of my family.”

With experience in the pharmaceutical, biotech and life sciences fields, and as a champion of technology entrepreneurship, Duane was uniquely qualified to help guide the stem cell agency’s Board in its policy and decision making.

“Duane was a friend and inspiring leader who unselfishly fought for patients everywhere,” says former state Senator Art Torres, JD, who served as co-Vice Chair of the agency with Duane. “He leaves a lasting legacy for California and the nation. I will miss his counsel and friendship. Our love goes out to his wife Renee and all the Roth family.”

Duane was a big supporter of Pedal the Cause, an organization that raises funds for cancer research. Donations can be made to the organization in Roth’s name.

“His passing will be deeply felt by all of us, as well as by the many patients and everyone connected to CIRM whom he touched over the years,” says Jonathan Thomas.

About CIRM: CIRM was established in November 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. The statewide ballot measure, which provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions, was overwhelmingly approved by voters, and called for the establishment of an entity to make grants and provide loans for stem cell research, research facilities, and other vital research.

Kevin McCormack



The engaging smile, the krinkle and twinkle in his eyes, his dapper appearance, his willingness to stop and help – he crossed boundaries to find ways to move things forward. I cannot remember him saying no. There were times of stress that he would counsel a different approach, a natural solution. He was the ideal negotiator for outcomes that carried a majority. I was close to him because he offered thoughts on how to keep the Institute moving forward. Not always in the direction that others were driving but in ways that accommodated the majority. He was sensitive and I saw him disappointed several times but he never gave up. He was Vice Chair of the ICOC because he had a knack of suggesting the path forward and he wanted to help lead the Institute. He and Ed Penhoet constructed the CIRM IP policies. He then led the construction of the loans program, and connections with the business sector. But he also gave me support over numerous little crises – internal and external - that needed sensible solutions. He came to see how our scientists and patient advocates made their recommendations in grant review for funding, and he always supported the scientific values ahead of emotional need.
He was my friend and for most of us who knew him, that is how we remember him. He gave so much – to his wife Renee and other close family, his work mates at Connect, the growing national life science industry, advocates for disease and injury, his work for charity, his heart and soul for CIRM and his friendship with all of us. It is difficult to think of anyone who contributed more of himself for others. We miss him terribly.
Alan Trounson

Duane was a no-nonsense person. He had the experience of a lifetime in the health care field and it was that background which made him so invaluable to CIRM and as an adviser and friend to me. He enjoyed tremendous respect from Congressional and legislative leaders and worked very closely with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the outset of CIRM's existence.

He was also a very snappy dresser and loved Tuscany in Italy where his wife Renee was from, the town of Lucca. I once sent him and Renee to the North Beach restaurant in San Francisco where owner Lorenzo Petroni realized that Renee's family was from the same town in Italy as his. They shared wonderful stories of their families and the region.

In an interview with the La Jolla Light he was asked who would he invite to dinner party of 8. He said, "JFK, Reagan, Thatcher, Churchill, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, my wife Renee to sit next to JFK and my brother Ted Roth who is a Democrat because the dinner conversation would be about politics"

His favorite saying was "All things are hard before they are easy."

His life was full of dedication to those disadvantaged youth as he and his wife were part of numerous charities in the San Diego area.

When I heard about Duane's death, I was drinking coffee and putting the finishing touches on a manuscript reporting our research that was funded by CIRM. That led me to think about Duane's impact on stem cell research; without Duane, I would not have been writing this manuscript. I would not have done the research I was writing about. Duane was not a scientist, but he listened to us, respected us, and helped us go further than we could have imagined.

To me, a research scientist, Duane at first seemed like he lived in another world, the planet where venture capitalists and the impeccably dressed dwelled. Then I got to know him. Back when the ICOC meetings were broadcast only by telephone to specific locations, Duane let me hang out at CONNECT, and listen in. Another time, I met him at the Del Coronado where he had a meeting, and he shared the broadcast with me on his cell phone. We were an odd pair in the lobby of the Del- he in his blazingly white shirt, perfectly pressed suit, shined shoes, and tasteful tie--and me in the uniform of a working scientist- blue jeans and a wrinkled shirt.

I am so glad that I overcame my initial impression of Duane and got to know him. We had much more in common than I would have thought. We shared a background in biotech, which gave us both the sort of cynical optimism that comes from experiencing the highs and lows of working in biotechnology - having complete control...and then having no control...and yet, being excited about the next opportunity.

Duane was compassionate but not emotional, business savvy but generous, serious, but really really funny.

Duane was a wonderful person, and I already miss him greatly. I wish I'd had the chance to thank him again.

The lump in my throat won't go away. It's been there since I returned from an overseas trip to learn of Duane's passing. I just keep seeing that smile, that "just walked off the pages of a fashion magazine" look, and those intelligent eyes that always saw the best in everything and everyone (even when we, ourselves, couldn't). Duane was one of those who reached out to people and met them where they were...seeing what was important to them and always interested in helping. I had barely begun my term at CIRM when Duane showed up like a big brother to inspire me and guide me.
He was measured...confident, but sensitive. Serious about his work and mission, but with a light enough touch to enjoy the ride.
The lump in my throat is a reminder that when we connect with our higher selves, we all have the capacity to be more "Duane-like" in our lives. That's a part of him that will live on. And it reminds us to not lose a moment of life without really going for the things that matter most; making sure to tell those along the way exactly what they mean to you and how much you care.
Supportive thoughts to Renee & his family, his work family at CONNECT and to all his many friends who will miss this man who made such a difference with his beautiful life.

Passionate about reaching patients with new therapies; passionate about biotech start-ups to unlock new paths for medical research to bridge the valley of death and treat patients; passionate about people, families and life, this was Duane Roth. He was a strong advocate and biotech leader who was instrumental in securing the California Health Care Institute’s early endorsement of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiatives. From advocacy Duane moved to national leadership of the stem cell movement as Vice Chair of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, created by Proposition 71 to fund $3 billion in the development of stem cell research into new medical therapies for the patients he passionately sought to reach in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and blindness. Ironically his commitment and dedication could someday reach patients with brain injuries; but, despite his passion, that day did not come soon enough for Duane.

The thing I remember most about Duane is that he was always committed to doing the right thing- even when it wasn't the easy thing, or the politically expedient thing, or the popular thing.

After CIRM meetings we often got together to debrief at the bar. I remember him acknowledging that he was often the only Republican at the table- outnumbered by emphatic democrats. Yet, our discussions found great areas of agreement as well as some areas of respectful differences. He never minded being in the minority because his core values and beliefs were constant, well articulated, and compassionate.

And Duane liked a good time. He often treated the whole group to wine- always accompanied by a smile and delight with the opportunity to be together.

I am particularly grateful to him for his value driven leadership on the ICOC. Despite our political differences, Duane and I bonded over our common beliefs in the best governance structure for CIRM. While we were out- voted by our colleagues, it was always good to know that someone as thoughtful and dedicated as Duane shared my belief in what was best for the organization. His courage and dedication inspired us to be better!

Thoughtful, caring, humble and brilliant- a true leader- we won't be the same without him.

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