Monday, December 03, 2007

First Chance for Business to Snag California Stem Cell Dollars

Attention Stem Cell Businesses! California's $3 billion wagon of cash is moving fast, and it is now time for you to jump on board.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is looking for a few good businesses, and it wants to give a few million dollars to them. Even if you are headquartered in New Jersey or anywhere else in the world, it makes no difference. Only a couple of catches – you must have a "research site" located in California by Feb. 5. That site is also where the CIRM-funded research must be done.

Feb. 5 is the deadline for applications for a $25 million round of grants for research into development of new cell lines, both from IVF and alternative methods such as reprogramming. Sixteen grants are expected to be awarded with funding possibly as early as August of next year.

This is the first opportunity for businesses to seek grants from CIRM. It appears that they will be competing for stem cell dollars against academic and nonprofit researchers. It is hard to set the odds on the competition given the array of stem cell talent in the Golden State. But some CIRM directors are eager to pump money into the private sector, figuring that could pay off by developing therapies faster than going the academic route. Others are simply sympathetic to the needs of cash-starved stem cell enterprises.

The news about business grants was buried deep in the new cell lines RFA that CIRM posted with no fanfare last Thursday. John M. Simpson, the stem cell watchdog for the Foundation of Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, was quick to see it. (We also wrote about it for in a piece that appeared Friday evening.)

Simpson issued a news release on Friday afternoon noting that biotech companies play an important role in stem cell research. But he also said that CIRM should not be in the business of writing blank checks for biotech. Simpson declared,
"We’ve already seen an example of an improper attempt by a stem cell board member to influence an award to his non-profit research institution. The possibility of abuse is even greater when the biotech industry goes after the money.”
Simpson has been active in development of intellectual property policy of the the stem cell agency, which is the key mechanism for the state to share any wealth that may result from CIRM-funded research. It is also the mechanism for assuring affordable access to CIRM-backed therapies. On Dec. 12, the agency's directors are expected to approve its IP policy for grants to business. Businesses can still weigh in with comments ahead of the meeting or at the meeting itself. Our advice is to do both, if it is important to your enterprise.

The exact IP policy that is to be considered is not yet posted as part of the agenda for the meeting, but the RFA has a link to this related document.

The reprogramming effort should come as no surprise to those who follow the agency closely. Arlene Chiu(see photo), former chief scientist at CIRM, and others were working on the new cell line proposal, including the reprogramming aspects, well before the news surfaced last month about a breakthrough in creating pluripotent cells from adult skin cells.

In October, she presented the concept for the new cell line grants to CIRM directors, declaring,
"We want to support the full spectrum of human pluripotent stem cell types and experimental approaches."
Also open to businesses is a $1 million round of planning grants to help lay the foundation for awards in a much larger series of "disease team" grants. That round will total roughly a whopping $122 million. In the case of planning grants, the RFA states that "for-profit organizations in California" may apply, but it does not specify whether they must be headquartered in the state or simply have operations in California.

Here are the key dates for the planning grants: Candidate nomination forms and letters of intent, Dec. 20; applications Jan. 31.

Key dates for the new cell grants: Candidate nomination forms and letters of intent, Jan. 10; applications, Feb. 5 as noted previously. Sphere: Related Content

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