Thursday, March 11, 2010

Burnham's Snyder Receives $1.85 Million More Despite Faulty Application

Directors of the California stem cell agency this morning, on a split vote, approved a $1.85 million increase in a grant to a Southern California scientist after he submitted a proposal that would violate the agency's rules against spending CIRM funds out-of-state.

Nineteen directors of those present voted in favor of the increase, although some expressed concern about the way in which the application was processed. CIRM did not announce the number of negative votes, but they appeared to be only handful, based on what could be heard via the Internet audiocast of the meeting. The board has 29 members but not all were in attendance.

The motion to approve the increase also included a requirement that CIRM staff work with the board to improve the way in which applications are screened prior to approval by the board.

The CIRM staff made the recommendation for the 50 percent boost (for a total of $5.4 million) in the grant to Evan Snyder (see photo) of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla. Last April CIRM directors approved a $3.6 million award to Snyder without knowing that it would violate the explicit ban on non-California spending. The staff said the additional money was needed because of the increased cost of moving the work to California.

A straight-forward explanation of how the grant came to be approved, despite its out-of-state component, was not available prior to today's board meeting.  Nor was it today. But some details emerged during this morning's discussion. Scientific reviewers, who make the de facto decisions on grant applications, were aware that Snyder's application involved paying for work out-of-state. That information did not reach the staff level until it surfaced during a regular review following approval last April of the grant by the CIRM board.

Based on the board discussion today, the key difficulty appeared to be with a subcontract with Eugene Redmond of Yale University. Snyder mentioned Redmond in his statement to California Stem Cell Report, saying that Redmond is in the process of becoming an adjunct professor at Sanford-Burnham and will spend one week a quarter in La Jolla.

Claire Pomeroy, a CIRM board member and dean of the UC Davis medical school, said that Snyder's revised proposal replaced senior researchers with junior scientists. She said the reviewers' score on the grant might have been different if they had known last year about the use of less experienced researchers. Pomeroy also suggested that Burnham pick up some of the additional costs, but CIRM President Alan Trounson said the institute would not do that.

Other board members worried about fairness issues along with their concerns about how grants are vetted by staff prior to being examined by CIRM's grant review group. Board member Joan Samuelson, a patient advocate with Parkinson's Disease (the subject of Snyder's research), said she supported the grant. But as a condition, she said the staff must “continue the discussion” with the board about how to avoid situations like this in the future.

At the end of the board debate, CIRM director Sherry Lansing, a UC regent and former head of a Hollywood movie studio, said she was still confused about how the Snyder grant was handled and asked to be briefed later about the matter.

No dissent was heard from CIRM board members about the value of the research proposed by Snyder. Director Jeff Sheehy, a patient advocate and communications manager at UC San Francisco, said,
“This is incredibly important science.”
Sheehy warned the board against becoming bogged down “in process.”

You can read more about the Snyder grant, including statements from Snyder and others by searching on the label “snyder grant.” Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:10 PM

    I think the Snyder grant should not have been funded at all. It was flawed because of the out of state issue and CIRM has certainly rejected grants with technical issues of this kind in the past.

    Snyder could have re-applied in the future, this time following the rules. Important science proposed in a grant application nonetheless still has to follow the rules.

    For CIRM to instead in effect reward him by giving him 50% more money sets an unfortunate precedent suggesting favoritism. There is nothing economical or frugal about any of this.

    In terms of Dr. Snyder's comments, they do not reflect reality and they do not reflect well on him. He suggests that the only meaningful research on Parkinson's Disease that can be done in California is by him, which is an egotistical falsehood. The tone certainly reflects the mindset of someone used to getting special treatment and getting his way.

    I think the world of CIRM, but they made a mistake in this case.