Tuesday, March 20, 2012

California Stem Cell Agency Pulls $19 Million Grant

The California stem cell agency has terminated a $19 million grant to a UC San Francisco researcher involved in the agency's ambitious attempts to push stem cell therapies into clinics.

The agency said the research effort led by Mitchel Berger, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at UCSF, "did not meet a go/no-go milestone" stipulated in the grant. His research was funded in 2010 to treat brain tumors with genetically modified neural brain cells. No further explanation for the termination was provided by CIRM in a report prepared for tomorrow's meeting of the CIRM governing board. The agency estimated the cancellation would save $13 million.

The California Stem Cell Report has asked Berger and his co-PIs for comment on the CIRM action. The other researchers are Evan Snyder of Sanford-Burnham and Webster Cavanee of the Ludwig Cancer Institute. Their remarks will be carried verbatim when they are received.

The CIRM action was disclosed in the progress report on the $230 million disease team effort launched by the agency in 2009. The amount climbed to more than $250 million with contributions from partnering countries. Three of the 14 funded applicants – Irv Weissman and Gary Steinberg, both of Stanford, and Karen Aboody of the City of Hope – were approved only after they appealed to the CIRM board to overturn rejections by grant reviewers. (See  here , here and here for their written appeals. See here and here for coverage of the 2009 board action.)

One other disease team grant was modified to limit its scope and revise its funding. No savings were announced by CIRM. The PI on the $20 million project is Dennis Carson of UC San Diego. Co-PIs are Catriona Jamieson, also of UC San Diego, and John Dick of the University Health Network of Canada. The research is aimed at leukemia.

The actions on the disease team grants were not entirely unexpected. From their inception, CIRM directors have been told not to expect all the grants to finish successfully.

Ellen Feigal, senior vice president for research and development at CIRM, prepared the 19-page update on the disease team efforts. The grants are aimed at generating an investigational new drug application with the FDA within the four-year term of the grant.

She said that the funding decisions were made following evaluation of the projects by panels of clinical development advisors. Their recommendations were then considered by CIRM staff.

Feigal's report laid out accomplishments of the research so far and discussed changes in direction.

She said two companies have been formed since the grants were awarded to commercialize the hoped-for products. She said that in June 2011 Aboody founded TheraBiologics Inc., Newport Beach, Ca., of which she is chief scientific officer and director. Another company, Regenerative Patch Technologies, Glendale, Ca., was created by the team working on an hESC treatment for age-related macular degeneration. That $16 million grant involves Mark Humayan and David Hinton of USC, Dennis Clegg of UC Santa Barbara and Peter Coffey, formerly with University College, London, but now at UC Santa Barbara. The effort has generated seven patent filings.

The Feigal update also discussed the efforts of companies involved in other disease team grants. The lack of CIRM funding for biotech firms has been a bone of contention with industry and troublesome for some CIRM directors.

CIRM indicated the projects involving the firms were moving on schedule with no major difficulties reported. The companies involved are ViaCyte of San Diego, Calimmune of Tucson, Az., and Sangamo Inc. of Richmond, Ca. Sphere: Related Content

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