Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stem Cell Directors Approve $151 Million to Commercialize Stem Cell Research

Directors of the California stem cell agency today approved $151 million in research awards aimed at commercializing stem cell research and pushing therapies into clinical treatment.

Patients and researchers cheered when the action was announced. 

The awards of up to $20 million each were ratified by CIRM's governing board, which added two to the six applications approved by reviewers. The original six totalled $113 million. Directors budgeted $243 million for today's round.

Five of the applications involving appeals were sent back by the board for more review. (See here, here and here.) They will be considered again in early September or October.

The awards are the second largest research round in CIRM's history, surpassed only by an another, earlier $211 million “disease team” round. The latest effort is aimed at bringing proposed clinical trials to the FDA for approval or possibly starting trials within four years. That deadline coincides roughly with the date when CIRM is scheduled to run out of cash unless new funding sources are developed.

CIRM is currently exploring seeking private financing. It could also ask voters to approve another state bond issue. (Bonds currently provide the only real source of cash for CIRM.)  In either case, the agency needs strong, positive results from its grantees to support a bid for continued funding.

Today's action came after nine out of the 15  applicants who were rejected by reviewers appealed the  negative decisions. Two of the appeals were successful at today's meeting. It is a good bet that at least some of those referred for more review will be ratified by the board in September. 

The appeals were based on a variety of issues, ranging from technical science questions to inconsistencies in CIRM's research approaches and mistakes by reviewers. The outpouring of appeals was the largest in CIRM history in terms of the percentage of applicants seeking to overturn reviewer decisions.

The round also marked another first in terms of the total initially approved by reviewers. On occasion in the past, reviewers have not approved enough awards to consume all the funds budgeted by the CIRM board. But never before has the amount fallen so far short.

Most of the awards went to enterprises connected to persons on 29-member CIRM governing board, continuing a trend that has existed throughout CIRM's history. Board members with conflicts, however, are not allowed to vote or participate in the

The full list of the winners and the CIRM press release can be found here.

(Editor's note: This item was updated from an earlier version and the figures increased as the CIRM board added another grant and took additional action.)

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