Friday, June 01, 2007

The $220 Million Lab Giveaway and Its Rules

Scientific laundromats, silos and collaboration benches.-- all were part of the discussion Thursday as the California stem cell institute began developing its criteria for giving away $220 million to build major research facilities.

The meeting was unusually well attended, with the audience easily exceeding the size of those usually at CIRM's Oversight Committee meetings. The actual numbers, however, were less impressive – something slightly over 30.

They were there because they represented universities and others hoping to win multimillion dollar grants to build new science complexes. USC(at least six representatives)UC San Francisco (at least two), Stanford(at least two), Children's Hospital of Oakland(one), UC Berkeley(two), UC Davis (one), UC Irvine (one) all were on hand.

The CIRM Facilities Working Group, which makes recommendations on lab grants, heard some interesting suggestions during the presentations and questions following.

Robert Klein, chairman of CIRM, several times said he expected some applicants to match the grant amount 100 percent, well exceeding a possible nominal match requirement of only about 20 percent. Also surfacing during the discussion was the suggestion that applicants who could line up major contributions – in kind or cash -- from industry might also be more favorably regarded. Other possible industry linkages could be important as well.

Some of the additional questions surfacing directly or indirectly: Is there going to be an effort to spread the grants around the state? How can smaller institutions compete successfully? Will there be more than one round of grant applications?

Irv Weissman
, Stanford's eminent stem cell researcher, told the group, "You will be beset by all sorts of political and geographic forces."

"People will try to fool you," he said.

Weissman and others urged an emphasis on excellence. He said the track record of the institutions and their scientists is the best way to assure that.

Jeff Bluestone, director of the UC San Francisco Diabetes Center, also emphasized excellence. He and Weissman additionally spoke of the need to prevent scientists from becoming isolated in "silos" in the proposed labs.

"Successful buildings are ones that have people bumping into each other," Bluestone said.

At one point, CIRM Oversight Committee member Janet Wright used the expression "scientific laundromats" to describe space that can allow for informal research exchanges.

Weissman offered up collaboration benches as one way of bringing in researchers from locations that do not have facilities that match those of major institutions.

Jeff Sheehy, a CIRM Oversight Committee member, said he was interested in providing for opportunities for many institutions.

"Everybody should get a fair shot at attempting to do stem cell research in California," he said.

Thursday's hearing in San Francisco was the first of four. The next will be Monday in Los Angeles, the third June 11 in Sacramento and the fourth in San Diego June 19. You can find more information here and here.

Grant applications are expected to be solicited this August with grants awarded early next year.

Needless to say, it would behoove any institution that expects to seek building grants to attend and participate in these meetings. They offer an opportunity to shape the criteria but also can provide insight into the thinking of some of the players who will be making decisions on who receives the money. Sphere: Related Content


  1. While talking about the "giveaway," one might note that WARF has filed its response in the re-exam of the Thomson patents. Contrary to a report that it is re-hash, WARF distinguished the Hogan art by an amendment, strongly distinguished the Williams art, and used Bongso's own words against the Bongso art.

    CIRM should consider a deal with WARF.

    See also

  2. In a monument to bad timing, an op-ed by Jeanne Loring appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on June 1, 2007, two days AFTER WARF filed its responses in the re-examinations of the Thomson patents.

    Although Loring notes in the op-ed that she was "outraged" when she learned of the Thomson patents, Loring conspicuously NEGLECTS to mention that her patent application 9/199,703, filed BEFORE Thomson's first patent (US '780) issued, had a claim to an isolated population of non-mouse embyronic stem cells that is broader in scope than anything in Thomson's '780 patent. Terri Somers and John Simpson don't mention this either.

    WARF had a devastating response to the Somers/Loring commentary about Bongso's work in comparison to Thomson's, written by Bongso himself in Nature Biotechnology. Curious that Somers and Loring didn't mention that paper.