Friday, July 12, 2019

More News Reports on Halt in California Stem Cell Funding Applications

The journal Science this week joined the publications beginning to report on the financial travails of the $3 billion California stem cell agency. 

In a piece by Jocelyn Kaiser, the journal briefly summarized the agency's activities and its outlook for the future. Kaiser wrote, 
"Some researchers who explore the basic science of stem cells had already been looking for other funding sources as (the agency) began to emphasize clinical work and their support wound down. But others, especially those planning clinical trials, will be hit hard.
April Pyle, UCLA photo
"'It’s going to be a huge impact on my lab and many others if they end,” says April Pyle of UC Los Angeles (UCLA), whose 11-person group works on using muscle stem cells to treat muscular dystrophy. Her last CIRM grant ends in March 2020 and although she also has some NIH funding, it does not support the animal testing and other studies needed to move her work toward a clinical trial."
CIRM is the abbreviation of the official name of the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Pyle has received $4.6 million from CIRM and UCLA $289 million, according to the agency's figures.

Kaiser also wrote, 
"Ongoing payments for approved projects continue, but scientists are already tightening their belts for a funding gap. They are also contemplating the end of a boom in stem cell research in the state. California’s voters may be asked to renew CIRM with another bond initiative next year, 'but there’s no guarantee,' says Arnold Kriegstein, who heads a stem cell center at the University of California (UC), San Francisco, and has received CIRM funding in the past."
Kriegstein has received $4 million from CIRM and UC San Francisco $192 million.

The shutdown of CIRM applications was first reported by the California Stem Cell Report on June 20.

Others have recently followed, in one form or another, including The Scientist, Genome Web, Capitol Weekly, National Review, The Beacon, Spine Review and LifeNews. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Live Online: The 'Inside Scoop' on $3 Billion, California Stem Cell Research Effort?

The headline was provocative, and the question was "now what?"

It is the latest posting on the blog of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which expects to run out cash for new awards as early as this fall. 

"Getting the inside scoop on the stem cell agency" -- That was the headline for the article, which promoted an online event July 25 involving three of the directors of the nearly 15-year-old agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). 

"Now what?" is one of the questions they will address during the Facebook Live session. Viewers will have a chance to submit questions during the event and hear the answers. The immediate response is one of the benefits of such an event. Another is that they are preserved online for later viewing, multiplying the potential exposure in a significant way. 

That staying power is a benefit of considerable utility for the agency, which is not exactly a topic at the breakfast table in the homes of California voters. But they are the folks who the agency hopes will approve a proposed ballot initiative in November 2020 for an additional $5.5 billion for the research program. 

CIRM is currently engaged in a bit of an extra effort to educate Californians about the positive aspects of its work. In recent years, it has functioned in the usual obscurity enjoyed by most state agencies. However, unlike most state agencies, it does not survive financially on the usual budgetary process. 

CIR was born in 2004 with $3 billion, but nothing more.  So today the task is demonstrate to the people of California its value proposition. 

Taking up that task online in a couple of weeks will be CIRM directors Anne Marie Duliegeexecutive vice president and chief medical office Rigel Pharmaceuticals; Joe Panetta, president of BIOCOM, and Dave Martinchairman and CEO of AvidBiotics. And CIRM is inviting Californians to join in the Facebook Live session "to understand how we got where we are, how the rest of the field is doing and what happens next."
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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The California Stem Cell Media Mix: 'Not Meant to Last Forever'

The Scientist magazine this week caught up with California stem cell matters, declaring that state stem cell agency "was not meant to last forever."

The piece by Chia-Yi Hou was a brief overview of California's stem cell agency, bringing the magazine's readers up-to-date about the current condition of the $3 billion research effort. 

"The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was not meant to last forever, as it received a finite amount of government funds when it was formed," she wrote, referring to the stem cell agency by its official name.

Noting that the program was slow to begin its spending, The Scientist article continued, 
"Eventually, research ramped up and, with the help of CIRM, California has become a hotspot for the field. CIRM helped start stem cell labs in California and attract investments from pharmaceutical companies. 'I think it launched the whole field,' says stem cell researcher Jeanne Loring of Scripps Research in an email to The Scientist. 'At a time when the [National Institutes of Health] was not supporting much translational research using pluripotent stem cells, CIRM was investing heavily in that area.'" 
The piece said,
"Where CIRM funding has been crucial is funding preclinical studies that help get research 'from the bench to the bedside,' says stem cell and gene therapy researcher Stephanie Cherqui of the University of California, San Diego, who is the recipient of two awards totaling more than $17 million. Not many granting agencies have the means to provide millions of dollars to fund the toxicology, pharmacology, and manufacturing studies that are required by the US Food & Drug Administration before potential treatments can go into clinical trials, according to Cherqui."
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Friday, July 05, 2019

USC vs. UC San Diego: Unprecedented $50 Million Settlement in Academic Recruiting War

The University of Southern California in Los Angeles is coughing up $50 million and publicly apologizing for its tactics in recruiting a star Alzheimer's resarcher from UC San Diego, it was reported Thursday.

The Los Angeles Times story about the unprecedented settlement described the case as an "ugly academic war." It had the potential of bringing $340 million in research grants to USC.  

The move settled a $185 million lawsuit that at one point involved two directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, along with researcher Paul Aisen.

The Times story said the "unprecedented litigation in which UC accused its private rival of repeatedly stealing away top scientists and their lucrative research grants with 'predatory' practices and a 'law-of-the-jungle mind-set.'"

Aisen was a neurology professor at UC San Diego. He and his lab staff left the La Jolla school in 2015. The Times reported that the departures were secretly orchestrated by top administrators at USC.

The Times story, written by Harriet Ryan and Teresa Watanabe with additional reporting by Bradley Fikes, said,
"The self-described 'quarterback' of Aisen’s recruitment was then dean of USC’s Keck School of Medicine Carmen Puliafito, subsequently revealed to have been using drugs and partying with criminals during the time he was courting the scientist."
At the time, Puliafito and David Brenner, dean of the UC San Diego medical school, were both members of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. Aisen, however, has not received funding from CIRM, which has financed $56.5 million in other Alzheimer's research. 

According to the Times, the apology said that the recruitment tactics "did not align with the standards of ethics and integrity which USC expects of all its faculty, administrators and staff."

The Times story continued,
"UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla welcomed the settlement and said he was open to working with USC in the future.
"'For California and the country, it’s good that two great research universities can work on the Alzheimer’s problem,' he said in an interview. 'I look forward to a constructive collaboration in the future in solving other societal problems.'
"It is not unusual for professors to move to other institutions, but it is often a collegial process in which the universities work together to transfer grants and research."
The Aisen case was not the first instance of USC researcher poaching. The Times wrote,
"In 2013, Puliafito lured two well-funded brain researchers from UCLA, outraging the state university, which complained to government regulators. USC agreed to pay UCLA more than $2 million in a confidential settlement."
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

California Stem Cell Agency: 'Inarguable' Source of Hope, Says Article in Scientific American

The headline this morning on the Scientific American web site said:
"A Bulwark against Trump's Stem Cell Ban
"California's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a kind of mini-NIH, does crucial basic research without federal funding"

Authored by Zachary Brown, a researcher at UC San Francisco, the article used as a peg the Trump administration restrictions on fetal research funding. Brown contrasted those restrictions to work being done here in California financed by the state stem cell agency. 

Brown recalled that a major impetus for voter creation of the agency in 2004 was presidential restrictions on federal backing for human embryonic stem cell research. Brown wrote,
"The future of embryonic stem cell research appears uncertain once again, as researchers are forced to scramble to adjust to arbitrarily changing norms uninformed by science."
Brown said,
"Almost 15 years have passed since Proposition 71 became law, and California voters made a three-billion-dollar bet on the promise of stem cell technology. At the time of its passage, the policy proposal was as groundbreaking as it was subversive."

Subversive because it challenged the "very relevance" of the predominant federal funding model. 

Brown continued,
"The measure was not perfect. Robert N. Klein II, one of the largest donors in support of Proposition 71, ended up as head of the governing body for seven years, and questions concerning bias in the disbursement of its ample endowment linger — curiously, more than 90 percent of awards" have gone to institutions with ties to governing board members.
"However, its role as a source of hope, both symbolic and realized, for the field of stem cell research is inarguable. The federal government weakens the image of the U.S. as a hub for discovery and medical ingenuity every time it prioritizes political gain over scientific progress."
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 01, 2019

Hard News for Patients, Scientists: California Shuts Down Applications for Its Stem Cell Research Funding

The California's stem agency's rundown on its clinical
 Some of the trials have saved lives.
The $3 billion California stem cell agency today served up the bad news with only a smattering of sugar coating.

No more applications for research funding are being accepted. The cash is running out, perhaps as early as the end of August.

In a posting on its blog, The Stem Cellar, the agency declared,

"It’s never easy to tell someone that they are too late, that they missed the deadline. It’s particularly hard when you know that the person you are telling that to has spent years working on a project and now needs money to take it to the next level. But in science, as in life, it’s always better to tell people what they need to know rather than what they would like to hear."
The news is no surprise to persons who follow the agency. But today brought a more clearly emerging sense of finality.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, was created in 2004 by voters who also provided $3 billion in bond funding. However, the CIRM ballot measure also contained the seeds of destruction for the agency. No other cash was provided. No other significant means of funding was laid out.

Today, the agency is pinning its hopes for survival on a yet-to-be-written ballot initiative for the November 2020 ballot. To bridge the gap between now and then, CIRM has been attempting for months to raise privately more than $200 million. So far, no results have emerged publicly. 

As of last month, the agency had in its pipeline applications for $88 million in research funding. But it had only $33 million left for new awards. 

CIRM reports it has enough cash on hand to administer its portfolio of awards, which stretch out a couple of years.

Fifteen days ago the agency quietly announced the application shutdown. Little public notice of the action was taken even in California's stem cell community, which has grown mightily over the nearly 15-year life of the agency. 

During that period, CIRM has helped finance 55 clinical trials targeting diseases ranging from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and arthritis. It has served up 1,015 research awards. The scientists it has supported have published more than 3,000 research papers. 

However, CIRM has yet to fulfill the campaign-generated expectations of the 7,018,059 voters in 2004 who voted to create it and who thought they would see new, widely available, miraculous cures. Impressive results, some of which have saved lives, have surfaced from some of the clinical trials. But the elusive stem cell cure that would be ready for the general public is yet to hit the streets.

The Oakland-based agency is not done yet nor is it out of business.  Its reviewers are expected to meet later this month to make the de facto decisions on some of the pending applications. And then again in August. 

More needs to be done in terms of the private fundraising effort. And more needs to be done in crafting a new ballot measure that would bring $5.5 billion to CIRM.  

In the CIRM blog item today, written by Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, the agency declared, 
"Over the years we have built a pipeline of promising projects and without continued support many of those projects face a difficult future. Funding at the federal level is under threat and without CIRM there will be a limited number of funding alternatives for them to turn to.
"Telling researchers we don’t have any money to support their work is hard. Telling patients we don’t have any money to support work that could lead to new treatments for them, that’s hardest of all."
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Beyond Blastocysts: 'Simple Stories' and Stem Cell Research Funding

The California stem cell agency this week had some useful advice for telling the stem cell story, be it in Keokuk, Ia., or La Jolla, Ca. 
It is not necessarily just a matter of petri dishes and blastocysts.  It is a matter of "simple stories that illustrate what you did and who it helped or might help."
The advice came from Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for the California stem cell agency, in an item on the agency's blog, The Stem Cellar
The piece grew out of a panel at the meeting this week of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Los Angeles. McCormack began by briefly recounting the experiences of researchers who carried their pitches into legislative and Congressional arenas.
Those are places where the money is -- the lifeblood of scientific research. 
Money, incidentally, is of particular interest at California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the $3 billion agency is formally known. On Monday it will shut down applications for new awards because in a few months it expects to run out of cash for them. 
Here is a little of what McCormack had to say concerning communication and scientific research, drawing from the ISSCR panel.
"(P)resenters talked about their struggles with different issues and different audiences but similar experiences; how do you communicate clearly and effectively. The answer is actually pretty simple. You talk to people in a way they understand with language they understand. Not with dense scientific jargon. Not with reams of data. Just by telling simple stories that illustrate what you did and who it helped or might help.
"The power of ISSCR is that it can bring together a roomful of brilliant scientists from all over the world who want to learn about these things, who want to be better communicators. They know that much of the money for scientific research comes from governments or state agencies, that this is public money, and that if the public is going to continue to support this research it needs to know how that money is being spent.
"That’s a message CIRM has been promoting for years. We know that communicating with the public is not an option, it’s a responsibility. That’s why, at a time when the very notion of science sometimes seems to be under attack, and the idea of public funding for that science is certainly under threat, having meetings like this that brings researchers together and gives them access to new tools is vital. The tools they can 'get' at ISSCR are ones they might never learn in the lab, but they are tools that might just mean they get the money needed to do the work they want to."
Sphere: Related Content