Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Biotech Industry Scores in Stem Cell Agency Grant Round: Beginning of a Trend?

Proposal by Tim Hoey
of OncoMed outscored
leading research institutions. 
In what is a first for the $3 billion California stem cell agency, biotech firms have snagged 20 percent of the cash in a grant round offered by the state's research enterprise.

The industry has long been unhappy with its picayune share of the $1.3 billion that CIRM has given away so far. The agency has talked about moving towards a more business-friendly position, but last week's awards were the first hard-cash demonstration – albeit a tiny one – of CIRM's commitment.

The round totalled only $1.8 million. Four biotech businesses were awarded $368,519. However, the awards are for planning for applications for a whopping $240 million disease team round next year. It is all part of a CIRM's aggressive push for clinical therapies.

The success rate for the business applicants was also high – 50 percent. Eight firms applied, CIRM told the California Stem Cell Report. In all, 36 applications were received and 19 approved.

Since CIRM began approving awards in late 2005, only 7 percent of all grants have gone to businesses -- that in a state that is one of the hotbeds globally of the biotech industry.

Scoring the highest in last week's round with an 87 was the application , for $65,120 from Tim Hoey, a senior vice president at OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Redwood City, Ca.  The score topped applicants from Stanford, UCLA and other vaunted stem cell research institutions. OncoMed is looking at developing a new anti-cancer drug.

The winning businesses included two publicly traded firms, Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Ca., and Stem Cells Inc., of Newark, Ca. It was the second CIRM award for Geron, which won a $25 million loan last May for help with its spinal injury clinical trial.

Geron's $106,239 planning grant (scored at 79) involves an hESC treatment for heart failure. Jane Lebkowski, senior vice president and chief scientific officer, is the principal investigator on the project. Stem Cells Inc. received $98,050 for a look at an Alzheimer's treatment. Its proposal also scored 79. Alexandra Capela is taking the lead on the project.

The fourth winning business was Wintherix, LLC, San Diego, Ca., which scored 69 on its $99,110 application. John Hood, chief scientific officer and a co-founder of the firm will lead the research into a therapy for osteoporosis-related fractures.

Only one of the applications – the one from Geron – appears to involve research using human embryonic stem cells,  the raison d'etre for voter approval of the California stem cell agency in 2004. The ballot measure that created CIRM was justified by backers because former President Bush had restricted federal funding of hESC research, a ban that has since been lifted by President Obama.


  1. Anonymous10:35 AM

    UC Davis scored a whopping 5, none of them eligible for the State legislation passed stem cell bond or any new human embryonic stem cell therapy, obviously, their representative at CIRM, you know who, have given them some sort of score board assurance for multi-million fund opportunity of stem cell bond money. Other score-board grants, including the big biotech ones, all have their representatives at CIRM, making peer review & oversight look like their public fooling act. We know human embryonic stem cells can turn into all types of cells without having to do anything, but difficult to have efficiency and disease-modifying activity. Those score-board grants did not have to do any of these difficult things others had to do, and got their easy score board visibility for multi-million stem cell bond money, obviously, their representatives at CIRM have given them some sort of score board eligibility assurance for California taxpayer money.

  2. Jim Fossett8:30 AM

    You can't have it both ways. If you want therapies in a short time frame, then you have to support things that are fairly far along in the pipeline, which mostly means adult stem cells at this stage. It should be noted that the limited results from hESC to date over this short time horizon is not unique, but is pervasive in the drug development industry. The biotech industry as a whole has lost money every year except one since they've been keeping the numbers. Venture capital firms that support these undertakings expect most of their investments to fail and count on a few big sellers to make up for their losses in other areas. Funding cutting edge science is a high risk proposition--if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster