Friday, June 12, 2009

$41 Million in Stem Cell Training Grants Look Good for CIRM Funding

The California stem cell agency today posted more information about what its board plans to do at its meeting next Tuesday, including what is close to a staff recommendation that $41 million be pumped into training programs at 15 institutions.

The training grants were approved earlier this year, but funding deferred because of CIRM's financial woes. But now that cash is available, CIRM staff urged the board to “seriously consider the resumption of funding” at the earliest possible date.

The memo supporting the move said that researchers need the trainees to continue support of research projects.

The memo said the previous training program, the first grants funded by CIRM, was well-regarded. The staff said,
“CIRM Scholars (trainees) conducted stem cell research in 219 distinct laboratories and produced 221 publications, many in high impact journals.

“Upon completing training, individual CIRM Scholars have moved on to faculty positions at top universities, to scientific positions in biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies, or to further training at laboratories of leading stem cell scientists. Many physician CIRM Scholars are now also practicing medicine with a strong knowledge base of stem cell science. Outstanding examples of CIRM Scholar achievements include: research leading to the founding of a biotechnology company and the research leading to a Phase 1 clinical trial.

“In addition to trainee success, the program has served as a focal point for stem cell research at each of the training institutions and produced an attractive stem cell research environment that has contributed to the recruitment of new faculty as well as top trainees. The research conducted by trainees has spanned the spectrum from basic to preclinical research and, importantly, has accelerated research through synergy with other CIRM funded projects.”
Also posted was a three-page justification for continuing the longstanding contract with Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., as outside counsel to CIRM at $450,000 a year. James Harrison, an attorney with that firm, has been Remcho's visible and unflappable representative on CIRM matters since 2005.

Remcho charges CIRM $350 an hour for work by Harrison, which the CIRM memo said “is significantly lower than the market rates for firms with similar expertise.” Work done by others at the firm is charged at lesser rates. If Remcho billed $450,000 at the $350 rate, it would amount to about six months of full-time work.

Also on tap next week is a do-over on motions for CIRM support of industry-backed legislation aimed at protecting biotech patents against development of generic biotech therapies. Now available on the CIRM Web site is a memo that summarizes the latest developments in Congress and the White House.

An updated version of the CIRM conflict of interest code is also available and has been placed on the consent calendar as a non-controversial item. Removed from the agenda are the consolidated IP regulations, which are to be considered at a later date. No reason was given for delaying the item.

Still missing are guidelines for a change in board voting procedures that could enhance the powers of the board chairman and information about the leadership and some of the membership of the directors subcommittee that will evaluate Chairman Bob Klein, the two vice chairs and CIRM President Alan Trounson. Sphere: Related Content

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