Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Klein: Federal Backing Could Lead to $1 Billion CIRM Loan Effort

Chairman Robert Klein of the California stem cell agency is proposing that the Obama administration provide loan guarantees that he projects would allow the Golden State to mount an ambitious $1 billion lending program for the biotech industry.

He broached the proposal at a Nov. 19 meeting of the Finance Subcommittee of the CIRM board of directors and plans to bring it up at a special teleconference meeting of the full board on Monday.

Klein's plan would double the size of the proposed $500 million CIRM loan program that is his brainchild. The board of directors is yet to sign off on details of the plan, which have not yet been fully worked out.

The $3 billion state stem cell agency itself has no apparent financial problems, although the state is in the midst of a $28 billion budget crisis. The voter-approved law that created the agency guarantees a steady stream of cash that cannot be touched by either the governor or the legislature. But Klein believes that the federal guarantees would help the lending effort.

At the Finance Subcommittee meeting earlier this month, Klein noted the trillion-dollar bailout figures floating around in the nation's capital. According to the transcript, he said,
"In terms of our financial interest, the loan guarantees that are being considered for a number of sectors of the economy could include the biotech sector.

"And here, if there were a 50-percent loan guarantee provision for governmental loan biotech programs, it would mean that if we had allocated conceptually, and only conceptually, because it's subject to approval of every loan at that time at the board level, but if we conceptually approved a $500 million allocation for a loan program and there were a government program for 50-percent guarantee, we'd have the possibility, subject to a lot of detailed work and legal review, to create a billion dollar program with that. So it would substantially expand our capacity for funding."
Klein brought up the proposal to seek "early input" from CIRM board members. However, the Finance Subcommittee ran out of time and adjourned without discussing the matter. He asked board members and the biotech community to send comments to him.

Klein is also seeking to lobby the Obama administration on other biotech industry matters. They include removing unspecified small business loan restrictions, expanding the FDA staff and substantially increasing funding for NIH grants.

On the restriction issue, he said,
"I believe it would be beneficial if some of those restrictions were changed to make it more possible for companies that have received venture capital funding in the past to get SBIC (Small Business Investment Corporation) loans because with falling stock prices, doing another round of stock offerings is not feasible unless you're going to hedge funds, which are extraordinarily difficult to deal with and create tremendous pressure on these small companies to the extent hedge fund money is available at all."
Klein said a substantial increase in FDA staff is needed to avoid a "choke point" on moving stem cell therapies into the clinic. He said,
"Everyone is going to need expert advice on exactly what kind of data and what kind of preclinical work is going to be required for an IND to be approved for a phase I human trial. That advice is required three years or more in advance because this is an innovative area. And so it's going to be an early priority with a lot of lead-time importance to get FDA expansion that can deal with cellular therapies as they advance."
CIRM has not yet provided written background on Klein's proposal on its Monday agenda, which also includes a plan to help ease the problem of absenteeism at board of directors meetings.

The public can listen in and participate during the teleconference meeting from locations in San Francisco (2), Los Angeles (5), La Jolla (3), Elk Grove, Sacramento, Pleasanton, Berkeley, Menlo Park, Healdsburg, San Carlos, San Diego, Irvine (2) and Duarte. You can find the specific addresses on the agenda. Sphere: Related Content

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