Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CIRM Finances and Grantee Uneasiness

CIRM's financial difficulties have created a certain amount of unease in the California stem cell community. A good example of the anxiety surfaced during its board meeting that ran late into the evening on Jan. 28.

The session was the first public disclosure of the scope of the problems facing the stem cell agency.

Towards the end of the session, Louis Coffman, vice president of the Sanford stem cell consortium in San Diego, addressed the board about his organization's concerns. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein was quick to assure him that night and the next morning that the stem cell agency had legal, contractual commitments to all of its grantees. Here is what Coffman had to say and what Klein told the board the next morning, according to the transcript. First Coffman.
"I bring you a letter from my boss and one of your former members, Dr. Ed Holmes. He's been monitoring this via my e-mail all night long. He said,

"'Mr. Chairman, we appreciate what you, President (Alan) Trounson, and others are doing to realize the vision of CIRM for stem cell research in California and the nation. These are difficult economic times, and your creativity and innovation is appreciated and needed. However, we feel it is important for CIRM to meet its existing commitments in full and on schedule before taking on additional commitments.

"'To not meet the terms of prior NGA's will negatively impact the credibility of cirm as a funding agency. How will future grant awardees have confidence that funds will be there for their programs if existing commitments are not fulfilled?

"'We at SCRM (the consortium) and other entities like us have made warrants, commitments to institutions and individuals based on the NGA we received for our facilities project. We have made commitments to the (UC) regents, to our developers. We have made commitments to generous philanthropists. We've spent his money based upon this NGA, and our consortia members have committed to existing and newly recruited scientists and faculty based on this NGA.

"'We plead with the ICOC(the CIRM board) to honor these existing commitments and request that the adoption of new programs not come at the expense of those that have already been awarded.'"
The next morning Klein brought up consortium's concerns again, saying,
"I was on the phone with Ed Holmes at 10:30 last night going through the constitutional protections for existing commitments and discussing the work that (attorney) James (Harrison) has been doing at my request for the last five weeks on developing something for the banks so they could understand that they could rely upon constitutional protections and the funding authorization we have in place on existing contracts."
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