Wednesday, January 20, 2010

California Stem Cell Lab Construction Not Entirely Up to Snuff

The California stem cell agency is reporting that one out of three grants is behind schedule in its $1 billion-plus stem cell lab construction program.

Nonetheless, CIRM produced an upbeat press release, declaring that “all were moving forward.” CIRM Chairman Robert Klein was quoted as saying the effort provided “extremely valuable contributions to the California economy.”

The timetable on the 12 projects is important by CIRM's own measure. Two years ago, CIRM ballyhooed the lab construction program because of its requirement for expedited construction with completion of the labs by May of this year. Applications for funding were also scored highly for their “urgency,” with 20 out of 100 points being possibly awarded in that category.

That said, few foresaw the unusual economic events of the last 18 months. However, most of additional needed financing should have been secured by the time economy nosedived.

Programs not up to snuff are located at UC campuses at Santa Cruz and Merced. Also behind is the $163 million Sanford Consortium facility involving UC San Diego, Salk, Scripps and Burnham. The fourth troubled effort is at the Buck Institute in Novato in Northern California. One could argue that others are behind schedule as well since they will not be completed by May, but instead one or two months later.

CIRM's press release on subject was a bit unusual. Normally the agency does not beat the drum about meetings of its working groups, where the official status report was discussed. But in this case, the lab construction program is one of CIRM's signature efforts.

The press release drew little attention. We found only two stories in a Google search: one about Buck by Ron Leuty in the San Francisco Business Times and the other about Sanford by Heather Chambers in the San Diego Business Journal.

One old rule in business holds that if you succeed 80 percent of the time, that is as good as you can expect. By that measure, CIRM's facilities program holds up reasonably well. But one of CIRM's foibles involves excessive rhetoric, such as bald statements that the facilities would be finished in two years.

Observers of the California stem cell scene would be well-advised to watch what CIRM actually does – along with what it promises to do. Sphere: Related Content

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