Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Look at the California Stem Cell Agency: Its Origins, Its Accomplishments and Its Future

The Capitol Weekly online news and information service this afternoon posted a major overview of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The piece covered the agency's origins, recent high water marks and discussed its future. Here is the beginning of the freelance article by yours truly.
"C. Randal Mills, the 45-year-old CEO of California’s $3 billion stem cell research program, is a man who loves his milestones. 
"A private pilot, he charts his course in the air from one specific point to the next. Three years ago, Mills brought that same sort of navigation to the state stem cell agency. Miss one of the agency’s milestones, and — if you’re a stem cell scientist — you may not crash and burn, but you could lose millions of dollars in research funding from the state. 
"Mills has left an indelible stamp on the agency with his emphasis on concrete, measurable results. But he is resigning from the research program at the end of June in the midst of what some say is its “last stage.” His surprise departure to head the world’s largest bone marrow donor organization shocked many in California’s stem cell community. And it added to the unease about its future along with the future of possible stem cell therapies."  
(For those of you who read a brief item this morning about how this blog was going to go dark for a few days while it was on an ocean passage in the Sea of Cortez, we had a minor setback. Our floating home, the sailing vessel Hopalong, suffered a mechanical problem that we could not fix at sea, so we returned to port for repairs. The voyage begins anew tomorrow morning.) Sphere: Related Content

Major Overview of California Stem Cell Upcoming This Afternoon

Look for a major overview of the $3 billion California stem cell agency later today on Capitol Weekly, a well-respected online news and information service that focuses on state government and politics.

The piece was written by yours truly on a freelance basis for Capitol Weekly and includes the latest developments at the agency, including what departing president Randy Mills leaves behind.

Given the vagaries of the Internet and news, publication of the article cannot be totally guaranteed this afternoon. So if it doesn't pop up today, try again later this week.

Meanwhile, the California Stem Cell Report is going dark for a number of days while it makes an ocean voyage in its maritime home, the sailing vessel Hopalong, in the Sea of Cortez.  Coverage of the agency is expected to resume perhaps by this weekend when an Internet connection can be found in Baja California. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 22, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Has Opportunity for 'All-in" Executive Assistant

Looking for a great job with a $3 billion operation headquartered in downtown Oakland? You will be able to share in the progress of one of the hottest biomedical fields in the country and perhaps help save some lives.

The job is executive assistant to the president of the California stem cell agency. The current president, Randy Mills, is leaving at the end of June. Maria Millan, now vice president for therapeutics, is taking over as the interim CEO. She is line to succeed Mills, but there is no guarantee on that.

The job is no walk-in-the-park. The agency is small -- only 46 employees -- despite its reach. Long hours could be the order of the day.

The job posting on the agency's web site says the position requires an "all-in" commitment to the goals of the agency. Salary can range up to $10,433 a month.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bones, Stem Cells and Bridging the Gap

California's $3 billion stem cell research effort chalked up a small score yesterday with the announcement that a $5.2 million investment is making progress towards development of a therapy to regenerate broken bones. 
Writing on the the state stem cell agency's blog, Karen Ring, social media manager for the agency, said,
"Scientists from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have developed a new stem cell-based technology in animals that mends broken bones that can’t regenerate on their own. Their research was published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine and was funded in part by a CIRM Early Translational Award."
The award went to Dan Gazit and Hyun Bae at Cedars. Their year one and two progress reports involving the adult stem cell therapy can be found at the link in the above paragraph. 
Ring's  blog item also carried a nifty graphic on the work and a link to a video on the research. 
Ring wrote,
 "Over two million bone grafts are conducted every year to treat bone fractures caused by accidents, trauma, cancer and disease. In cases where the fractures are small, bone can repair itself and heal the injury. In other cases, the fractures are too wide and grafts are required to replace the missing bone.
"It sounds simple, but the bone grafting procedure is far from it and can cause serious problems including graft failure and infection. People that opt to use their own bone (usually from their pelvis) to repair a bone injury can experience intense pain, prolonged recovery time and are at risk for nerve injury and bone instability."
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Read All About It! Bad News for The Stem Cell 'Other'

It is a sad day for the stem cell "other."

Only 11 percent of the readers of one stem cell blog say they fit that category. That was a big drop from the early returns that showed the "other" with 21 percent.

(Never mind that we don't know the precise number of eyeballs actually represented by that 11 percent.)

All of this is the product of The Niche, the blog of UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler. He mounted a poll last week for readers to determine both their interests and general identity.

Initially "other" sprang into the lead. But as more readers responded, the reader category of academic scientists moved to the top with 32 percent. Industry scientists followed with 19 percent and patient or patient advocates with 17 percent.

What were they interested in? Investigations, 25 percent, newsy items, 20 percent, and journal club-like paper reviews, 18 percent.  Less than four percent of readers identified themselves as interested laypersons.

If you are feeling left out, there is still time to respond by going to this link. A chance at free stem cell swag is being offered. And the swag is better than a used petri dish. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 12, 2017

$20 Million, California-backed Stem Cell Trial Discloses Disappointing News

Capricor Therapeutics, Inc., today announced some bad news about its state-of-California financed clinical trial for a cardiac, stem cell therapy and said that it planned to lay off an unspecified number of employees.

Capricor's stock price plummeted 62 percent following what the company called the "unexpected" news, dropping from $1.89 to $1.16. California's stem cell agency has backed the trial with $20 million, plus an additional $7 million for earlier, related research.

The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), said on its blog,
"Obviously this is disappointing news for everyone involved, but we know that not all clinical trials are going to be successful. CIRM supported this research because it clearly addressed an unmet medical need and because an earlier Phase 1 study had showed promise in helping prevent decline in heart function after a heart attack."
In response to a question, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, said the agency is talking to Capricor about the next steps. The agency regularly halts funding of awards when recipients do not meet milestones. McCormack did not respond to a question about how much money the firm had already received from CIRM.

Capricor, which is headquartered in Beverly Hills, said in a press release that an interim analysis on the phase two trial has "has demonstrated a low probability (futility) of achieving a statistically-significant difference in the 12-month primary efficacy endpoint." The company said there was "no notable difference" between treatment groups.

The company said it would cut its workforce to focus more sharply on its treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which the stem cell agency is also backing with $3.4 million. The Duchenne treatment had better news the last month, clearing its phase one trial with no adverse effects.

Timothy Henry and Rajenda Makkar of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles are the principal investigators for the clinical trial.

The highest price for Capricor stock over the last 12 months was $5.40 and the lowest was $1.13.

Here are links to additional news stories today on Capricor: BiopharmaDive, MarketWatch, Genetic Engineering News,  Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "Other" and Stem Cell Blogs

Ever wonder who reads stem cell blogs? The "other" are the predominant readers of the one produced by a UC Davis stem cell researcher. At least that is the latest result from a survey that Paul Knoepfler is conducting about his cyberspace effort.

Knoepfler posted the survey request today. The results are still coming as you read this item. The initial tally this afternoon showed that 21 percent of respondents placed themselves in the "other" category when asked about their background. Next were academic and industry scientists, both with 18 percent, and physicians, 15 percent.

Most liked posts? Investigations, 33 percent; opinion pieces, 21 percent; newsy items, 17 percent.

The results are ever-changing as more readers respond. You can express your own preferences by going to this item. Respondents will be entered in a drawing for a stem cell T-shirt and signed copies of Knoepfler's two books. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Embedded in a Stem Cell Lab: Melton, Diabetes and Keeping Cells Happy

Yi Yu, a research assistant at the Melton lab at Harvard with flasks containing
human embryonic stem cells -- Photo 
From a "mouse house" to growth cocktails, a web site called Undark has it all in a piece headlined "A Month in the Life of a Stem Cell Lab."

The photo essay was prepared by ChloƩ Hecketsweiler, a Paris-based journalist with Le Monde. She recorded events and people during six weeks this year in the laboratory of Douglas Melton at the Harvard Stem cell Institute.

Melton is digging into diabetes. A firm he co-founded, Semma Therapeutics, is the recipient of a $5 million award from the California stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

About Melton's lab, Hecketsweiler wrote,
"I watched their experiments, learned about the complex science of stem cells, and talked with the researchers about their work and hopes. I was allowed to take pictures, and for this photo essay I tried to pick out moments and details that I found revealing, although scientists may see them as business as usual."
Her photos are first-rate, her reporting personal and the presentation strong. One member of Melton's team, Maria Keramari, told her,
"You have to keep the cells happy before you keep yourself happy."
It echoed an axiom from America's old family farming days when livestock was fed and cared for as the sun rose, long before before the family sat down for breakfast.

Another Melton researcher, Ornella Barrandon, said,
"We spend so much time on our projects, they are like our babies."
Hecketsweiler's work tells a science story in a way not regularly seen. It is a good example of making stem cell research accessible to a wide audience and leaving them wanting more. Sphere: Related Content