Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Researcher Alert: Opportunity for Fresh Appeal in $243 Million Disease Team Round

A tiny opening exists for scientists who failed to win approval last month of their bids for $20 million research awards from the California stem cell agency.

On July 26, the agency's governing board okayed $151 million for eight scientists during a day filled with emotional testimony from patients, as well as appeals by researchers seeking reconsideration of rejection by grant reviewers at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The board also asked reviewers to take a fresh look at five applications in its signature disease team round.

However, the board failed to act on eight applications, meaning that they are still pending. Normally the board will approve -- as a group -- one set of applications. Then, at the same meeting, it will vote to reject another set of applications. On July 26, however, the hard-pressed directors late in the afternoon lost the supermajority quorum (65 percent) required to do business and adjourned without acting on all the applications.

This situation rarely occurs on award rounds. In our recollection, it has happened only once before although there may have been other occasions.

That leaves an opening for more researchers to ask the board to act favorably at its Sept. 5-6 meeting in San Francisco on applications rejected by reviewers. Money is available. The July 26 round was budgeted for $243 million.

At the meeting last month, discussion by directors provided several clues to appropriate avenues for reconsideration. They were interested in appeals, formally called extraordinary petitions, that brought genuinely new information to the table. Serious errors in the reviews – something more than differences of opinion – were of interest. Wide variance in the spread of scientific scores on specific applications, including the preliminary scores, also triggered directors' interest.

Researchers considering appeals would be well-advised to listen to the audiocast of the meeting to hear the discussion of appeals. The transcript of the meeting also should be posted soon on the CIRM website, probably this week. The transcript can be found via this page when it is posted. The audiocast instructions can be found on the July 26 meeting agenda.

(The best available information on the CIRM web site shows a Sept. 5-6 governing board meeting. However, that schedule also shows other two day meetings earlier this year, which actually have turned out to be only one day.)
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