Thursday, August 19, 2010

Massive, $243 Million Disease Round Gets Okay from Stem Cell Agency

Directors of the California stem cell agency today gave the go ahead to a $243 million disease team grant round aimed at generating a “development candidate” for a clinical trial, doubling the size of the original proposal by the CIRM staff.

The huge round would fund up to 30 planning grants and 12 full grants of up to $20 million. It would come on top of the initial disease team round of $250 million last October. The application process for the latest round would begin this November with planning grants, which are required to be eligible for full grants. Full grants are scheduled to be approved in 2012.

The size of today's round was doubled at the suggestion of CIRM Director Jeff Sheehy. He said most of the disease team efforts are risky and expected to fail. He said it was important to get more in the pipeline.

Sheehy first proposed 45 planning grants and 15 full grants. CIRM President Alan Trounson resisted the increase in the number of grants, declaring it would overtax staff and reviewers. After some discussion, Sheehy agreed to 30 planning grants and 12 full grants.

The board also approved a more than $600,000 study of its operations by the prestigous Institute of Medicine that would be expected to completed by the general election of November 2012. Chairman Robert Klein said the study would be key to winning voter approval of more billions in state bonds to fund stem cell research.

Sheehy supported the proposal, declaring it would be taken “very seriously” by editorial boards and other segments of the media as well as the public.

Duane Roth, co-vice chairman of the stem cell board, dissented. He said the study will require considerable work on the part of staff. He also said the board should not have “blind trust” that the findings would be ones desired by the board.

The study will be funded with part of the $3.5 million that CIRM has in private donor funds. The cost could increase beyond the $600,000 range because CIRM directors indicated they wanted some changes in the scope of the study. CIRM is currently involved in an expensive external review of its strategic plan and will be subject to a performance audit($400,000 or so), which it will also pay for, under the terms of legislation expected to be signed into law.

The board also approved paying its patient advocate members up to $15,000 annually. That action came during a session late yesterday, which CIRM had assured us would be solely an executive session.

In other actions, the board approved procedures for selection of a new chair and vice chairman. Klein has said he will step down as chairman in December. However, if the board does not vote on a replacement, he will continue in office.

Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician, was named chairman of the directors' Evaluation Subcommittee, and Ted Love, executive vice president of Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Richmond, Ca. , was named vice chairman. The panel evaluates the performance of the chairman, vice chairman and president of the agency.

Here is a link to the CIRM press release on the meeting. Sphere: Related Content

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