Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Competing for California Stem Cell Cash: Rules of the Game Coming Under Scrutiny

Every California stem cell scientist and researcher looking to join the field – be they from academia or business – should pay very close attention to a meeting next week of a key group of directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

They plan to discuss possible changes in how scientists compete for stem cell cash, which is no small matter since CIRM has another $2 billion to hand out over the next several years.

On the table Tuesday May 25 at the first meeting of the directors' Science Subcommittee will be such matters as:

Appeals of unfavorable decisions by scientific reviewers. Some applicants have appeared personally before the board and turned around a negative decision but some CIRM directors are quite uncomfortable with that process.

The relatively new pre-application process that weeds out what CIRM staff and some outside reviewers consider dubious proposals. Only those who pass muster are invited to continue with their bids for cash.

Staff scrutiny of grant proposals prior to funding. At least two approved grants have publicly run afoul of CIRM rules during that process.

Progress reports from scientists on their research. Three scientists have lost funding during those reviews.

Scaling back funding on some applications prior to presentation to the CIRM board for approval.

Some of these issues have troubled directors for several years. They came up again at last month's directors meeting, leading one, Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco, to push for an airing of the matters with an eye to finding solutions. Others expressed concerns, including Vice Chairman Duane Roth, a San Diego area businessman. He warned about creating a "slippery slope" of public appeals. Publicly debating appeals could create a situation, he said,  in which directors could “expect everyone show up, and I don't think that is what we want to do.”

The directors seem primarily focused on smoothing out and rationalizing the appeal process, which currently consists of two entirely different procedures.

No final action is expected on the issues, but some changes are likely to be suggested for approval in the coming months. Most of the directors are open to hearing from researchers about their views. Now would be a good time to make comments, preferably in writing as well as in person.

If you are interested in participating in the telephonic meeting, seven locations are currently scheduled around the state. They include San Francisco(2), Irvine(2), Duarte, Healdsburg and Stanford. More may be added. The specific addresses can be found on the agenda, but some are missing room numbers or other necessary detail. Interested parties can contact CIRM for the information.

A list of Science Subcommittee members has not yet been posted on the CIRM Web site. We will carry a short item when it becomes available. Sphere: Related Content

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