Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Childrens Hospital's Second Letter

Here is the text of the latest appeal letter from Childrens Hospital Oakland Research Institute. The boldface indicates the criticism of the Oakland proposal. CIRM refuses to release the actual report by CIRM reviewers, who performed their review behind closed doors.

January 14, 2008

Dear Members of the ICOC:

The critique of the Grants Working Group indicates clearly that the intent and aims of our proposal were misunderstood. We think that the reviewers might have overlooked that the goal of Proposition 71 was to cure disease by the innovative use of stem cells, not simply to explore the possibility of curing disease with ES-derived cells. The reviewers imply that we have requested a facility that will be used simply to process and store blood stem cells for conventional transplant procedures. This is not the case: we have proposed to explore the use of a new type of blood stem cell, discovered here, that has the potential to transform blood stem cell transplantation and make it available to far larger numbers of patients.

Achievement of this goal will however require rigorous research. The research must be very strongly clinically oriented if our discovery is to be translated into something that can be used to cure disease. We should also note that the cost of our facility is relatively modest, particularly in light of the probable direct and near-term benefit to the citizens of California.

We would like to respond to the principal criticisms of the application:

1. No collaboration with established stem cell lab/groups to help characterize novel cellular populations; absence of hESC studies. The focus of our research and the purpose of the application is to benefit California citizens affected by hemoglobin disorders, which afflict a disproportionate number of citizens as a result of the ethnic diversity in this State, through innovative applications of stem cell therapy. We are committed to accomplishing these aims in the near-term, and more important, to apply our research in the clinic by using the safest and most reliable methods. Currently, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the clinical applicability of hESC, and their clinical safety has not been sufficiently well characterized to support clinical trials with these cells in the near-term. Thus, we have elected to apply other methods of regenerative cellular therapy, in part because the safety, efficacy, and availability of other sources of cells are better developed, and we have considerable experience with conducting these trials.

2. Institutional collaborations were not carefully described, and corporate partnerships to develop the products were not included in the application. While we have established institutional collaborations with UCSF, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis, and share CIRM funding with UC Berkeley to conduct stem cell biology training for our clinical fellows, none of these institutions has developed expertise in characterizing placental stem cell populations, which are the focus of this application. Thus, we are uncertain about how collaboration on this subject outside our group would be practical or useful. It should be evident that we have extensive established collaborations relating to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and cord blood collection, processing, and storage.

3. Poor interdisciplinary collaboration of pre-clinical and clinical research projects, with a lack of track record by some PIs. This criticism ignores information that was clearly presented in the proposal: in fact we have an extremely well integrated program of research. Our proposals were prepared as a result of ongoing interactions by laboratory-and clinical-based investigative teams to 1) collect stem cell populations from placenta to investigate a new source of stem cells that might augment and expand the applicability of cord blood transplantation; 2) overcome barriers to histocompatibility by using photochemical treatment of donor lymphocytes before hematopoietic cell transplantation with mismatched donors. These projects were initiated, and are undergoing further development, as collaborations between basic and clinical investigators devoted to discovering medical therapies for hemoglobin disorders. The goal of these interactions is to translate these ideas into readily available applications of cellular therapy, something we believe is strengthened by our strong track record of conducting successful stem cell transplantation clinical trials for hemoglobin disorders.

4. Clinical research/cores proposed were not innovative and were perceived as currently supported by HRSA/Bill Young stem cell bill. Pre-clinical proposals were nnovative but not sufficiently well developed to proceed to a clinical trial in the near future; perhaps more appropriate in an Element Y application. We propose to construct a facility devoted to novel applications of stem cell transplantation for
hemoglobin disorders, not simply to construct a duplicate facility for housing cord blood collections from California families. This research would involve the collection of placentas for cryopreservation, analysis and mobilization of stem cell populations from placenta, and then processing these cells for use in a clinical transplantation trial that will be initiated in the next 1-2 years. We are currently preparing an IND with the FDA for this purpose. It is important to point out that the placenta-derived hematopoietic stem cells are the first new type of stem cell used in this field since the 1970’s, when cord blood was first used. Federal regulations governing this research have changed dramatically since that time, and are now far more complex. This project is thus truly innovative, and it will serve as a model for other attempts to use stem cells clinically. If proof of principle were provided by this initial clinical trial, the technology then would be applied to existing transplantation efforts, with the goal of expanding and improving outcomes after cord blood transplantation, particularly after unrelated donor transplantation. The proposed research is not supported by HRSA or the C. W. Young bill. The primary purpose of this bill is to establish cord blood banks and develop an inventory of 150,000 units for public use. It is not to perform clinical/translational research like that we have proposed. While a small amount of funds are allocated to support sibling banking ($250,000) by the funded cord blood banks, there are none in California who elected to participate in this sibling effort. It is critical that we have a facility for developing, characterizing, and distributing these cells for clinical transplantation trials. Thus, a GMP/GLP cell processing laboratory and a HLA laboratory are key components in support of the proposed clinical and pre-clinical investigations. This work cannot move forward without a facility.

5. A plan to utilize national networks in order to conduct a clinical trial was not detailed. It should be very clear from Dr. Walters’ track record that he is able to utilize, indeed currently is utilizing, such national networks in a highly productive fashion. The proposed pre-clinical investigations will be transitioned to phase I clinical trials in the very near term, responsive to the Element Z category we employed for this application. By providing proof of principle, this research has the potential to expand current clinical transplantation practice that will utilize HLA – mismatched and unrelated stem cell donors for hemoglobin disorders, a practice that is not routinely available. These will be conducted using multi-center networks that we can access for completing these clinical trials and which were detailed in the application. These include the Center for International Blood and Transplantation Research (IBMTR), the Sickle Cell Disease Clinical Research Network (SCD-CRN), and the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Clinical Trials Network. Our investigative team has leadership positions in these organizations and a successful track record of carrying out similar translational clinical trials in human hematopoietic cell transplantation.

We appreciate the opportunity to present our responses to critiques of our application and hope that the ICOC might look favorably on this and future applications to CIRM that we submit for consideration.

Respectfully,

Bertram H. Lubin, MD
President, Director of Medical Research
5700 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Oakland, CA 94609

Mark Walters, MD
Director, Blood and Marrow Transplant Program
Children's Hospital & Research Center, Oakland
747 -52nd Street
Oakland, CA 94609
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