Wednesday, May 16, 2012

$95 Million in California Stem Cell Grants: Preview the Spending

For those interested in how the California stem cell agency is going to spend its next $95 million, you can check out short digests today of the 19 research grant applications, including reviewer comments, that are virtually certain of receiving the cash. 

The applications came in what CIRM calls its "early translational III" round, which is scheduled to be acted on by the CIRM board May 24 in San Francisco.

Digests of reviewer comments are part of the directors' meeting agenda. They include scientific scores, a statement from the applicant and a summary of what reviewers had to say during their closed door sessions. But you won't find the names of the applicants, their institutions or businesses. The stem cell agency conceals the names of the winners until after the board acts. Names of the unlucky ones are not disclosed by CIRM. The agency says it does not want to embarrass anybody including the institutions involved.

However, persons familiar with the area of science involved may well be able to discern at least some of the names of applicants from the information contained in the summaries.

Scientific scores of the successful applicants ranged from 88 to 53. Nine grants scored higher than 53 but were rejected by reviewers(the Grants Working Group). The panel turned down 22 applications overall. The CIRM board has final authority on applications, but has almost never rejected a positive decision by reviewers. Sometimes, however, it will overrule a negative decision.

One successful application that was scored at 53 involved ALS. The $1.7 million proposal was approved for "programmatic reasons," according to the summary. Often, programmatic motions for approval are made by CIRM board members sitting on the review panel. However, the summary did not disclose who made the motion or the vote. The summary said,
"The programmatic reasons provided were that ALS is a devastating disease that is not well-represented in CIRM's portfolio."
The other successful application that scored at 53 sought $6.3 million for research involving heart disease. The summary did not clearly identify the specific reason for approving the grant on a programmatic motion. But it said,
 "The GWG (grants working group) ... advised as a condition for funding that the applicant consult additional vector specialists with translational and clinical experience to select a more appropriate vector to move this program towards the clinic." 
Again CIRM withheld the vote on the motion and the name of the person who made the motion.

Applicants who have been rejected by reviewers can appeal to the full board. So far no appeals have been publicly posted by CIRM. The success rate on such appeals is mixed.

The translational round was open to both academics and businesses, which have received a tiny fraction of CIRM's $1.3 billion in spending so far. Some businesses have complained publicly and, as well, to a panel of the Institute of Medicine that is evaluating CIRM's performance.

The California Stem Cell Report yesterday asked CIRM for the number of businesses that applied in the translational round, including the pre-application process, which is used to whittle down the total number of applications. The request included total numbers as well. CIRM spokesman Kevin McCormack declined to produce the figures prior to the CIRM board meeting, saying they "won't be ready" until after the session.   
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:32 AM

    Odd about the ALS grant. CIRM already has a disease team award on the order of $20 million for ALS- isn't that working out?