Thursday, October 07, 2010

Stem Cell Agency Says It Is "Not Biased Against Industry"

The California stem cell agency responded today to an item reporting dissatisfaction on the part of the biotech industry concerning its meager share of the $1 billion that CIRM has awarded so far.

Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for the agency, filed his remarks earlier today as a comment on the second piece we wrote on the subject. (Here is a link to the first.) Because of the important nature of the controversy, we are reprinting his statement verbatim below to give it greater visibility. We are sure it is not the last to be heard on the subject from either the agency or industry.

Here is what Gibbons wrote as a comment on the item on the California Stem Cell Report.
“Your post distorts the facts. The document you quote from BayBio is not a 'report' it was a letter written to highlight issues and get the group’s membership excited about attending the session. It was not intended to be a document of record regarding the organization’s stance on CIRM.

“You did not check the facts in the letter. You could quickly tally the for-profit grants on our web site and see that the $45 million awarded to industry is 4.5 percent of the amount awarded not the 3 percent cited. But you know that even this number is not a good comparative number. Anyone who follows CIRM knows we are working from a 'pipeline' strategy moving from basic research and infrastructure to clinical application. Industry was not, and should not have been, eligible for the early rounds of grants. I do not believe the taxpayers wanted us building facilities for for-profit entities. Also companies would not have been appropriate recipients for our training grants. So, if you look at only research dollars, the pie shrinks to $628 million and industry’s share is 7 percent.

“However, that is still not an appropriate number to use. The first two research awards, the SEED and Comprehensive grants, were called the Jumpstart program designed to get this new field launched. They were issued before we had an intellectual property (IP) policy in place and therefore could not be offered to industry. (And don’t suggest we should have had an IP policy in place by then given the vast number of new systems the agency was developing simultaneously.) If you subtract those dollars the pie shrinks to $511 million and industry’s share rises to almost 9 percent.

“Given our pipeline strategy and our stated intent to start out more focused on basic science and move into the translational and clinical arenas when the science matured, this is a respectable percentage. As you well know we have a $50 million Targeted Clinical Development Request For Applications active now and that could double industry’s share in one grant round.

“If you look at the industry partnerships our academic grantees have formed, the dollar amount committed to industry is already probably double actual grant total. While only one disease team Principal Investigator was from industry, a second team had a co-PI from industry and another eight have major contracted relationships with industry.

“CIRM’s management team is certainly not biased against industry. Seven of 12 science officers came to us from industry, and there is frequent discussion in the office about ways to bring industry more firmly on board with our mission and to clear misconceptions on our policy.  This is the reason we developed a webinar on grant writing that is now on our website

“Also, a little fact checking would have revealed that the number of industry reviewers on our grants working group was wrong in the BayBio letter. Thirteen members are currently employed by industry and another 13 have strong ties to industry as former industry employees or having been involved in founding a company. So, that is 26 out of 136 reviewers, not the six suggested.

“Your posting did not represent the over all tone of the BayBio meeting. It was generally a very constructive session. One executive present noted that when our regulations were explained, his company was comfortable enough to apply.

“Distortions relying heavily on a single disgruntled source do not do a service for the stem cell field or help the reputation of the blogosphere.”
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