Thursday, March 12, 2009

Clinic vs. Basic Research: CIRM Funding Priorities

This item is part of the continuing coverage today of the board meeting of the California stem cell agency based on its audiocast.

The California stem cell agency today set a goal of raising roughly $240 million by privately selling state bonds over the next two years, preserving both its touted efforts to push development of therapies in the clinic and basic biological research.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein told the board that one of those therapeutic efforts, a $210 million disease team program, is a critical piece in marketing the bonds and is unique to the agency. Without it, he said raising the funds not only will be more difficult but would turn the agency's back on its main mission.

Funding priorities came up today during the CIRM board meeting in Sacramento as a result of the financial plight of the agency, which will run out of cash next fall unless it sells bonds, virtually the only source of funding for the program.

Klein wrote the measure that created CIRM in such a fashion that it puts the agency outside the normal budget allocation processes involving the legislature and the governor.

Directors debated the virtues of funding grants for basic biology versus higher profile enterprises aimed at developing potential therapies at a more advanced stage of research.

Marie Csete(see photo), chief scientific officer for CIRM, told the board that scientists at recent hearings on CIRM's strategic plan were emphatic in stressing the importance of basic research, whose grant round sizes have already been cut.

Director Jeff Sheehy, a communications officer at UC San Francisco and a patient advocate representative, said the disease team project is already a year behind schedule. He said,
"We do not want to hamstring the disease team."
Requests for preliminary applications in that round have already gone out. It is scheduled to be awarded in September or October.

The goal set by the board of directors is just that. Klein will come back in late April with more information on his efforts to sell the bonds. The budget and funding priorities are expected to be reviewed again then. Sphere: Related Content

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