Sunday, March 01, 2009

$1 Billion for Stem Cell Labs: Troubles and Status

California's $1 billion stem cell lab construction program will be under scrutiny on March 9 as the state's stem cell agency weighs a request for changes in one approved grant while other recipients report difficulty in raising the required matching money to build their labs.

It all comes as CIRM itself faces a looming cash shortage. It will run out of money next fall unless it is successful in privately marketing state bonds – its only significant source of funding – as opposed to their general market sale by the state.

The Buck Institute of Novato, Ca., the Sanford Stem Cell Consortium in San Diego (UC San Diego, Scripps, Burnham and Salk) and UC Santa Barbara have already reported difficulties in completing financing arrangements.

But UC Merced had a bit of good financial news in its bid to change its grant. The proposed changes, which will be presented at the CIRM facilities group March 9 meeting, would reduce the cost from $7.5 million to $6.1 million, $3.8 million of which comes from CIRM. However, the space is about 20 percent smaller.

Merced is requesting that it be allowed to build its stem cell instrumentation foundry on its campus instead of on the former Castle Air Force Base. In a Feb. 9 letter to CIRM, the campus said the old military base has problems with utility service and backup capabilities. UC Merced also cited unspecified issues with the county, which leases the space to UCM.

John Robson, CIRM vice president; Marie Csete, CIRM chief scientific officer, and Ray Groom, a facilities consultant hired by CIRM at a cost of $15,000, are scheduled to visit the campus on Friday to be briefed on the new plans and view the site.

Another item on the March 9 agenda is a status report on all the lab construction projects around the state. No background material on that subject has yet been posted by CIRM on its website.

An additional topic is funding for GMP facilities. Csete has prepared a report on the matter, and her conclusion is that CIRM does not need to fund such facilities at this point. In her Feb. 23 memo, she said that “CIRM grantees have adequate options and access for GMP cell manufacturing.”

But she also said that a “critical lack of workers” exists and that CIRM should provide for training in another round of grants. CIRM hired Biologics Consulting Group of Alexandria, Va.,for $15,000 to assist in the GMP survey.

The facilities group meeting will be in San Francisco. Currently the agency has not posted any plans for teleconferencing access to the meeting. Even if it does, our recommendation is that institutions with something at stake should be at the session in San Francisco and be prepared to comment authoritatively.

Here is a link to Ron Leuty's piece in the San Francisco Business Times on problems at Buck and our item on Terri Somers' article in the San Diego Union-Tribune about the consortium, Buck and UC Santa Barbara. Here is a link to what consortium told us more recently. Sphere: Related Content

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