Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fresh Info, and Plenty of It, From CIRM for Big Meeting Next Tuesday

The California stem cell agency today presented to the public an impressive array of information on its operations and plans, ranging from the nitty gritty of the budget of its chairman's office to a scenario that would see its operations extending into 2023.

All of the topics are scheduled for discussion or action at the CIRM board's two-day meeting that begins next Tuesday in San Diego.

We have been critical of CIRM's failure to provide the public with adequate and timely information concerning its activities. Today's postings represent a dramatic improvement. The agency and its staff are to be commended.

CIRM offered plenty of grist – more than we can do justice to in a quick summary. But here are a few highlights.

One of the more interesting matters to be considered by the 29 CIRM directors next week involves a long-range look at its expenditures and its strategic goals.

The staff's 12-page analysis had the following to say about a plan that would have the agency running through its $3 billion by 2019.
“This scenario raises the concern that CIRM may be pushing its programs forward too fast to meet its mission. Stem cell science is a rapidly progressing, fast moving field. However, it is still a young discipline. The next big advances to come out of basic research can only be imagined but it is not unreasonable to expect additional paradigm-shifting results in the next couple of years that will rival the initial development of iPS technologies. CIRM may well be in position to contribute to those breakthroughs but will it have enough money and time remaining to push them into the clinic? Currently, there are programs in the pipeline with potential for significant clinical benefits but, given the early stage of stem cell research and the well-documented studies of success rates in drug development, it is difficult to predict how many, if any, of them will fulfill that promise. However, as the field matures there will surely be many more therapeutic candidates and it is reasonable to predict that some of the later ones will have a greater chance of success because they will be able to take advantage of more advanced technologies.”
The staff also took a crack at the issues on a scenario into 2023.

The budget information, which has been the subject of some attention recently on the California Stem Cell Report, is vastly improved over last year. Detail is heaped on detail. Legitimate year-to-year comparisons are made. Expenses can be viewed by “cost centers,” meaning the office of the chairman, the president and so forth.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in two weeks totals $15.7 million, compared to the $9.7 million spent through May. Last year, directors approved a $13 million budget for the agency. CIRM ran significantly under budget on its payroll costs, the largest item in the budget, and external contracts, the second largest.

For next year, CIRM projects that salaries and benefits will increase by $1 million beyond last year's approved budget. However, the proposed figure of $8.5 million is well above the $6.3 million spent through May. CIRM has 45 employees currently and hopes to hit 50. It may exceed that if legislation passes removing the 50 person staff cap. Even without hiring beyond 50, benefit costs will rise by $400,000 because of state-mandated retirement benefits for some employees.

Other significant increases include $633,000 for grant working group meetings, $1.1 million compared to $574,000 approved for this year but even higher when compared to actual spending of $337,000 through May. External contracts will rise $506,000, hitting $2.8 million compared to last year's approved figure of $2.3 million. But the jump is much greater when compared to actual expenses through May of $1.4 million. Information technology, which appears to mainly involve continuing work on CIRM's critical grant management system, will jump $431,000, from $818,000 approved last year to $1.2 million. Actual spending through May is only $610,000.

Also up for consideration at the board meeting is a $45 million grant round for research into basic biology. The three-year awards will be available to both business and academic researchers.

CIRM also reported for the first time a partial accounting of some of the benefits it is receiving from the City of San Francisco's package to win placement of the agency's headquarters in Baghdad-by-the-Bay. For the current fiscal year, they included:
“• Rent – valued by auditors at $1 million
“• Overhead on office space - $650,000 (approximate)
“• Free internet line - $15,000
“• Use of Moscone Center for ISSCR annual meeting - $100,000
“• Use of City Hall Rotunda (2 receptions) - $10,000 each”
CIRM should compile an overview of the entire package in the not-too-distant future.

Also available as of this evening are five "extraordinary petitions" by researchers seeking to overturn negative decisions on their applications for immunology grants. They are Genhong Cheng of UCLA, Jeanne Loring of Scripps, Olivia Martinez of Stanford, Elaine Reed of UCLA and Defu Zeng of the City of Hope.

The postings of the petitions also came earlier than those for previous meetings of the CIRM board. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:34 AM

    Nice to see CIRM finally realizing that they were funding stem cell projects at too fast a pace.

    The line up of more with 'extraordinary petitions' still gives me pause. They really have to improve on that (which I realize they are working on). The directors should not be in a position to give out grants to each other's institutions overriding independent reviewers.

    For this particular round, we also have to question just how many immunology projects are needed to first answer some fundamentals so as not to find the money going out too quickly once again.

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