Sunday, April 20, 2008

San Diego Consortium's Stem Cell Lab Plans and How They Came About

The folks in San Diego call it a "collaboratory" – a $115 million structure to be built under the auspices of four of the world's stem cell research powerhouses.

They are the Scripps, Burnham and Salk institutes and the University of California campus at San Diego – all united under the banner of the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday took a front-page look at the project (see drawing), which is seeking $50 million in construction funding from the California stem cell agency. It is scheduled to make decisions in early May on grant applications from throughout California that would led to $758 million in stem cell lab construction.

Somers story was chockablock with interesting stuff. She wrote:
"It took three men the scientists fondly refer to as 'the town elders' – real estate mogul Malin Burnham, Padres owner John Moores and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs – to help it become a reality.

"'Without their pressure, encouragement and support, (the consortium) wouldn't have happened,' said Fred Gage, a stem cell researcher at Salk."
(Moores was a key financial supporter of CIRM, purchasing $2 million in bond anticipation notes from CIRM when its finances were tied up in litigation.)

Somers also reported,
"An out-of-state philanthropist, whom the consortium declined to identify, has pledged to donate $30 million, with $10 million paid upfront. The remainder would be in $2 million annual increments."
Somers said that Moores gave the consortium $250,000 in seed money and requested the institutes come up with $50,000 each. The 7.5 acres for the building comes from UCSD and is valued at $15 million,

She reported that collaborative efforts sometimes have had difficulty in the past, including one involving UC San Francisco and Stanford. Somers wrote,
"The difficulties arise from every institution having its own culture. Smaller institutes relish their autonomy and operating freedom in contrast to larger, more bureaucratic institutions, such as UCSD.

"Issues ranging from who will be the boss to fear of losing donations, or disputes over who will own scientific discoveries, often kill such partnerships before they start, said Zach Hall, founding president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

"'It's a testament to the vitality and sense of community that is in San Diego that this has happened,' said Hall, who is now retired. Three years ago, when putting together the strategic plan for the state stem cell institute, Hall listed fostering collaboration as a top goal.

"'For these San Diego institutes to overcome all the obstacles is a real payoff for the long-term vision that San Diego had years ago in setting aside some space for the development of scientific activities,' he said."
CIRM scientific reviewers ranked the project at the top of the 12 lab grant applications. Facilities reviewers ranked it No. 4.

However, that does not matter much to some folks who are not pleased about the project. They say it would mean the end to the Torrey Pines Gliderport, which is in the National Register of Historic Places. A meeting is scheduled for Monday night at which some of the concerns of the glider folks are expected to be aired. In Napa, some 600 miles to the north, on Wednesday night, the state Historical Resources Commission will consider whether to expand the borders of the Gliderport.

Somers story picked up some reader reaction on the Internet, which can be found at the end of her story or here. One reader complained about "greedy scientists fighting over patents." Another decried "welfare for professionals in these lean financial times." One reader suggested the lab be located inland in El Cajon to save money. Responded another reader, "All the Right Wing Christian Coalition fanatics in that town would chase them out. EL Cajon is only known for strip bars, meth dens and a nut case mayor."

(An earlier version of this item described the Monday meeting involving the gliderport as a protest meeting. The meeting is actually part of the EIR process.) Sphere: Related Content

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