Thursday, October 04, 2007

Biotech Bank Plan Moves Ahead at CIRM

With no fanfare whatsoever, the $3 billion California stem cell agency – already the largest single source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the world – Wednesday took the first step towards extending its life by moving forward on creation of a loan bank for the biotech industry.

Few details were available. They will be worked out by a Biotech Loan Task Force, chaired by Duane Roth, chairman and chief executive officer of Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp. of San Diego, Ca., and finance committee, chaired by venture capitalist Michael Goldberg(see photo), a general partner in Mohr Davidow Ventures of Menlo Park, Ca. Both are directors of the stem cell agency.

Members of the CIRM Oversight Committee did not discuss the loan bank, which is the brainchild of Robert Klein, chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. They approved creation of the task force and a new finance committee on a unanimous voice vote at a meeting in San Diego, Ca.

Following the meeting, Goldberg told us that he has not yet developed a schedule for his group's hearings, declaring it was too early to discuss details.

As we mentioned earlier, a major lending program operated by CIRM poses a host of questions and also opportunities. One advantage of a biotech bank is that it could create an income stream that could continue to fund CIRM well beyond its bonding capacity, which is only about 10 years if it taps the maximum each year.

The biotech bank also highlights the unusual nature of the agency, which enjoys special capabilities not shared with virtually all other state departments. For example, it can raise funds much like a private nonprofit organization, although fundraising is a tricky business. A case in point was the star-studded fundraiser in May of 2006 in San Francisco, featuring Julie Andrews, which promised to raise $1 million for CIRM. The actual figure was only $250,000, according to CIRM.

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly identified Goldberg as chairman of the Biotech Loan Task Force and Roth as chairman of the Finance Subcommittee.)

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