Wednesday, November 21, 2012

California Stem Cell Agency Still in Talks on $40 Million for StemCells, Inc.

The California stem cell agency and StemCells, Inc., are still trying to reach agreement on a deal in which the company would receive $40 million from the state's taxpayer-funded research effort.

The sticking point is the $40 million in matching funds required from the Newark, Ca., firm under the terms of the two awards approved in July and September. The latter award was okayed on a 7-5 vote by the governing board after it was rejected twice by the agency's reviewers.

On Monday the California Stem Cell Report queried the agency about the status of the awards. Kevin McCormack, the agency's spokesman, replied,
“We are still in talks with them over the terms of the funding. Hopefully, we'll have an agreement soon.”
He did not elaborate further.

CIRM staff normally reviews applications after they are approved by the agency's governing board to be sure that all conditions are being met. However, in the case of the September award to StemCells, Inc., CIRM's governing board took the unusual step of publicly stating that the firm must demonstrate it has the $20 million in matching funds before it receives any payments from CIRM. The board did not take that sort of public position on the $20 million grant approved earlier in the summer, although matching funds are required in that case as well.

The former chairman of the $3 billion stem cell agency, Robert Klein, appeared twice before the board to lobby for approval of the second award to StemCells, Inc., which is a publicly traded firm.. It was the first such appearance by Klein before his former colleagues since leaving the agency in June 2011.

Action on the StemCells, Inc., awards attracted attention from the Los Angeles Times last month. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote that the process was “redolent of cronyism.” He said a “charmed relationship” existed among StemCells, Inc., its “powerful friends” and the stem cell agency.

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