Monday, March 14, 2011

CIRM Schedules Action on New Directions for May

Directors of the California stem cell agency last week curtailed discussion of recommendations for changes in the agency's direction, including stronger ties with the biotech industry, putting off the matters until their May meeting.

At last Thursday's meeting, CIRM President Alan Trounson quickly ran through his agency's response to the proposals last fall from a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the agency. But other matters, including selection of a new chair, occupied the board's time.

CIRM's staff response to the commission did not contain specific implementation plans and was vague on some of the matters.

Art Torres, co-vice chair of the CIRM board, told directors that he would like to see directors vote specifically on the staff proposals regarding CIRM's international leadership role, improvement of communications and PR and movement away from traditional funding models (responses 3, 5 and 7 in the CIRM memo).

Director Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco, asked the CIRM staff to provide in May a "clear implementation path" for its proposals, including specific actions that the staff would like the board to take.

The recommendations will affect how CIRM allocates its remaining cash, including support for basic research versus grants and loans for efforts more focused on producing clinical therapies. The proposals could mean putting more cash behind research before the results have been "written up," in Trounson's words. The staff recommendations also could mean more cash for biotech firms, including grant rounds that would be limited to business applicants.

Commenting on involvement of biotech companies with CIRM, Trounson said,
"Companies sometimes don't know we are in this space. They all don't read our web site avidly."
He added,
"Clearly we're not meeting their needs."
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