Tuesday, August 16, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Reviewers Scored Geron Loan Application at 66

Scientists evaluating the Geron Corp. application for a $25 million loan from the California stem cell agency gave it a score of 66 on a scale of 100.

The score was disclosed publicly this afternoon for the first time at the request of the California Stem Cell Report. Directors of the agency approved the loan last May, on a 16-1 vote, during a process that was a major departure from other funding rounds. Normally, the scores of applicants approved for funding are publicly disclosed prior to action by the full CIRM board.

James Harrison, outside counsel to the 29-member CIRM board, said in an email,
"Geron's application received a scientific score of 66. For context, it is important to understand that CIRM utilized new criteria for the Targeted Clinical Development RFA on a pilot basis. As a result, the scores in this round should not be compared to scores for applications submitted in response to other RFAs, in which the piloted criteria were not used; the Geron score is only relevant when compared to other scores for applications in the same round. Here, there were no other scored applications presented to the Board as the other applicants withdrew. As a result, CIRM concluded that the most important information was whether or not the application had been recommended for funding and that presenting the score for the Geron application would not provide meaningful information."
In addition to not disclosing the score prior to board approval, CIRM failed to provide the usual summary of grant reviewer comments. The three other applicants in the $50 million round all withdrew prior to presentation to the CIRM board – another first in CIRM's grant program. And no public explanation was provided at the time for the departures from long-established procedures used for more than 400 grants and loans.

Harrison has defended the handling of the Geron application, declaring that it was needed to protect confidential information.

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