Sunday, October 18, 2009

CIRM On Track to Hit $1 Billion Mark

The board of directors of the California stem cell agency late this month is expected to approve $210 million for disease team grants and loans, the largest ever research round for the five-year-old enterprise.

The amount will push CIRM's grant total to about $1 billion, the bulk of which has gone to institutions with representatives on its board of directors. The agency has authority to spend another $2 billion, which it generates through California state bonds. When that runs out, the agency will need to find additional funding if it is to continue.

The meeting Oct. 27-28 in Los Angeles will also mark the first ever loans made by the agency, which has plans to build the loan program to $500 million. The purpose of the loans is to assist biotech businesses that could not otherwise receive funding because they are in what as known as a “valley of death” financially. The expectation is that the loans will generate $100 million despite loan failure rates as high as 50 percent. Any profit is expected to be recycled as more loans or grants.

Prior to the board meeting, the directors' Finance Subcommittee is scheduled on Friday to consider some basic matters concerning the loan program. The recommendations of the panel will go before the board at its meeting at the end of the month.

No background information has yet been posted concerning those matters, which range from criteria for certain loans to unspecified changes in loan administration policies.

Also on tap for the full board meeting is a discussion of the yet-to-be released results of a survey of the scientific grant reviewers concerning whether they would be willing to publicly disclose their financial interests. They are members of the Grants Working Group, which makes the de facto decisions on CIRM grants.

The Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency, recommended the survey because of the power of the scientific reviewers, who perform their work behind closed doors. Questions have been raised about conflicts on the part of the reviewers, in private by some researchers, but some in public.

It is commonplace for scientists to disclose financial interests in publication of research papers, but some CIRM directors fear that public disclosure of reviewer interests would result in the loss of some reviewers, who would resign rather than be subject to public scrutiny.

Also on the table for the meeting is the update to CIRM's strategic plan, which would officially set CIRM on a course for closer relationships with the biotech industry. The agency is currently engaged in a $100,000 search to fill a newly created vice president of research and development. The post has a salary range that tops out at $332,000 and is aimed at attracting candidates from industry. Sphere: Related Content

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