Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A $100 Million Agenda Next Week for California Stem Cell Directors

The board of the California stem cell agency meets one week from today to give away $30 million for research into basic biology and to authorize a new, $30 million immunology grant round, not to mention the creation of a $40 million effort to lure top scientists to the Golden State.

The 29-member board is also likely to implement the first stage of its ambitious and risky $500 million lending program for the biotech industry and approve delegated underwriters to run the effort.

CIRM directors additionally are scheduled to discuss the latest revision of the strategic plan, which is now available along with a related report on CIRM operations. The draft plan was posted earlier this week in plenty of time to be read and digested by all interested parties. (We will have more later on the update on the strategic plan.)

Several other matters to be considered also now have background material posted on the agenda, a substantial improvement from the days when such information was very late in coming.

The news out of this meeting – if any mainstream news outlets choose to cover it – is likely to be the $30 million given away for basic biology research. That program calls for about 20 grants over a three-year period. Some of the grants are likely to involve Japanese partners, although California funds are to be spent only in this state.

Scientists and others who want to help shape upcoming grant rounds should take special note of the proposed programs for research leadership awards and for stem cell transplantation immunology grants.

The usual procedure is for the board to approve the “concept” for the awards. Then the staff prepares the RFA and posts it. So next week will be the last chance to present to the CIRM board comments on the proposals and any suggestions for changes.

The research leadership award program is aimed at helping to recruit top scientists to California. The proposal says recipients will be researchers “judged to be highly likely to become world leaders in their fields.”

No exact dollar amount was placed on the effort but CIRM presented an example in which eight scientists could possibly see $40 million or so. That would include up to $1 million for lab renovations and equipment, to be matched by the recruiting institution. The six-year program would also provide up to $186,000 per scientist for annual salaries plus benefits and $300,000 a year for lab operations.

Nominations must come from a California university, research institution or medical center.

The program is certain to find strong support from the 12 heads of research institutions, medical school deans, etc., on the CIRM board.

The other proposed grant round provides $30 million for up to 20, three-year grants for research into stem cell transplantation immunology. Japan and the state of Victoria in Australia are funding partners, meaning that teams of researchers from those countries will be competing.

Given the discussion of the two new grant rounds and the strategic plan, persons interested in the future direction of CIRM and future funding initiatives should be on the scene or at least check in on the online audiocast. The audiocast, however, only allows you to hear the proceedings – not take part.

Directions for listening are already available on the agenda. The meeting itself will last two days and take place at the Mission Bay campus of UC San Francisco. Sphere: Related Content


  1. Anonymous11:52 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous3:04 PM

    The research leadership award will be informative as to the motives of ICOC members.

    This is clearly recruiting help for the deans sitting on the ICOC, so one can expect their strong support.

    However, might some other member (perhaps a patient advocate or two) note that zero scientific capacity for the field is added through these grants?

    In the past when there was federal ban, bringing researchers to CA made sense since they could do work here that they could not do where they were.

    Now the ban's been lifted, what CIRM will be doing is funding someone to move their lab without actually creating new research.

    I guess it's good for the institutions since recruiting has got to be tough at the UCs right now. But if your goal is cures, this initiative brings you not one step closer to a cure and will probably slow down the scientists they recruit since they have to stop work while they pack up their labs and move to CA.

    This differs markedly from past initiatives that do training or support promising junior investigators early in their careers.

    Trounson's cagey---he's clearly found a way to suck up to the deans as the whole Csete fiasco gets swept under the rug.

    One can at least be comforted knowing Stanford will once more benefit from the state's largesse (want to bet they get one of these awards?) even though they clearly don't need help compared to most folks in CA today. One can see that Weissman's fishing trips with Alan are really paying off.