Coming up on Tuesday is a three-hour meeting involving the California stem cell agency's ambitious proposal for a biotech loan program that could pump as much as $750 million into the state's stem cell business.
The session is scheduled for San Diego with two teleconference locations in San Francisco. It is a must if you are associated with an enterprise interested in the loans or want to shape policy concerning them. And that includes nonprofit organizations, as well as businesses. The Biotech Loan Task Force seems to be heading in the direction of making the loans available to nonprofits as well as private enterprise. Additionally, funds would probably be available to out-of-state companies, so long as the loans were going to California operations.
The idea behind the effort is to leverage the cash available to CIRM and to help organizations bridge what is called the "valley of death" – an economic gap between research funding and traditional financing.
The plan – brainchild of California stem cell chairman Robert Klein – received a major airing last month. Generally the reception was cordial. Few want to rain on a $500 to $750 million parade, the range of amounts that Klein has discussed offering as loans.
At the invitation of CIRM, Gregory Bonfiglio(see photo), managing partner of Proteus Venture Partners of Palo Alto, Ca., laid the groundwork during the hearing. His firm, which has offices in Boston and Cambridge in the UK, is devoted to developing the business of regenerative medicine.
He told the loan task force last month that currently 300 companies exist that are "pure play regenerative." He said 800 clinical trials are underway in the US involving stem cells and regenerative medicine.
Gone are the bad old days – the "trough of disillusionment" – and, he said, "We're now on our way out."
"How do I know that? What is the current market dynamic? Well, the current market dynamic, triggered again in part to respond to Prop 71, is that you are seeing an incredible amount of activity at the university level. this technology is so compelling that it has captured the imagination of the best and brightest at our major universities. every major university in the United States now with a medical school has a dedicated regenerative medicine program. There are 65 of them in the US alone. There are another ten to twelve in the UK, and there is also very, very promising research going on in Singapore, in Australia, in China, in India."He also cited additional changing market forces that have created a more favorable economic climate.
One of the caveats to the program was voiced by Richard Murphy, interim president of CIRM. Jeff Sheehy, a member of the CIRM Oversight Committee, echoed some of Murphy's concerns. Murphy said,
"I think the notion that all of this would be evaluated by CIRM staff is really overshooting. As you know, we're limited to 50 people in the organization. We would need to have real partnerships somewhere to be able to do this in a way that these guys would buy into as partners. I suspect that cannot be done in-house, at least with our present structure."Klein said,
"We could have a delegated underwriting group that becomes the coordinating officer or the coordinating firm that, just as in the real estate field, the delegated underwriters evaluate the appraisals, the market studies, the toxicity reports, etc. In this field the delegated underwriter, a bank, for example, Silicon Valley Bank, could be a delegated underwriter who could agree to service this for us."In addition to Bonfiglio, industry was represented at the January meeting by Burrill & Co., Advanced Cell Technology, Invitrogen, Silicon Valley Bank, Bay City Capital and Cooley Godward.
While we are not particularly fond of Powerpoint presentations without additional elaboration, Bonfiglio's is available on the CIRM site along with the transcript of his remarks. Combined, they provide a useful perspective on state of the regenerative and stem cell medicine business.