Thursday, July 26, 2012

StemCells, Inc., and Capricor Stave Off Rejection from Stem Cell Agency

Two California stem cell firms today won a reprieve from rejection in their bids for $40 million in funding from the California stem cell agency.

They are StemCells, Inc., of Newark and Capricor, Inc. of Beverly Hills. StemCells was founded by Stanford researcher Irv Weissman. Capricor was formed to commercialize research at Cedars of Sinai that had been previously financed in part by the state's $3 billion enterprise. Frank Litvack, who unsuccessfully vied for the chairmanship of the stem cell agency in June 2011, is the recently appointed executive chairman of Capricor.

The CIRM board sent the firms' bids back for more scientific review based on their appeals of reviewers' negative decisions as well as testimony at the board meeting today. The board will take up the applications, which seek $20 million each, again in early September.

Robert Klein, who was the first chairman of the stem cell agency, appeared before his old board as a member of the public on behalf of the StemCells appeal. He said new evidence will be published soon in a scientific journal that supports the StemCells approach. Klein also said that he was personally involved in three CIRM grant reviews in which scientists affirmed the company's approach. (Here are links to the appeal and to grant reviewer comments.)

The other application also involved new information. Litvack, former CEO of Conor Medsystem, told the board the firm has made considerable progress since CIRM's closed-door review of applications last April, both in terms of management and science. The firm's appeal said Litvack's appointment is part of the management improvements at the firm.

Sherry Lansing, a member of the CIRM board and former CEO of a Hollywood film studio, enthusiastically recalled a presentation last year before the board about the results of the initial research. She the firm has solved the problems cited by reviewers. She said,
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to select the best science.”
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