Friday, January 03, 2014

Growing Stem Cells and Raising Cash in California

California's nearly 10-year-old effort to develop therapies from stem cells is riding a technology wave that some folks are saying will pick up considerable momentum this year.

That is good news for the state's $3 billion stem cell agency, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which will run out of cash for new grants in 2017 and which is looking for new sources of revenue from the private sector.

The latest outlook for regenerative medicine was posted on re/code, a new technology Web site led by a couple of well-known refugees from the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. One of their writers, James Temple, weighed in with a piece on Jan. 1 about technology forecasts for 2014.

He said “five clear themes emerged” and one involved regenerative medicine. Temple, a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist, quoted James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, as saying “major strides” are in the offing for 2014. In an email to Temple, Canton said,
“The most significant trends and breakthroughs in 2014 will be in regenerative medicine: The use of human stem cells to grow new organs, repair tissues (and) heal patients with numerous cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.”
Another one of Temple's “futurists,” David Houle, author of “The Shift Age,” said that “sometime between now and 2020, 'our replacement parts will be superior to the parts we are born with.'”

Temple yesterday looked back to 2013 via a report by the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters. It said that the biotech industry accounted for 42 out of 82 venture-backed initial public offereings last year. The figure was five times more than the biotech sector offerings in the last five years.

Temple's pieces followed other stem cell forecasts from UC Davis researcher and blogger Paul Knoepfler, who is also optimistic. Knoepfler even predicted a “big announcement from Big Pharma” on stem cells or regenerative medicine.

Whether the forecasts are correct or whether the IPO trend will continue is a bit beside the point for the stem cell agency. What they can profit from is the fact that this kind of news generates excitement among investors and among those who might be willing to make a major bet on the Golden State's stem cell agency. Fund-raising becomes easier when the public rhetoric is more than optimistic. The band wagon effect takes hold. The visions of hope that entranced 59 percent of California voters in 2004 when they created the stem cell agency seem much closer to reality.

Catching this wave, however, is no easy matter, and the agency's 29 directors stalled last month when faced with a plan for a new financial future. Whether they can act with dispatch on this issue remains to be seen.
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  1. Anonymous11:13 PM

    The great promise of regenerative medicine makes one wonder why CIRM is spending so many of its remaining dollars on cancer research completely unrelated to regenerative medicine. As I discuss here, in funding such research, CIRM is not complying with the clear intent of the law, and may indeed be acting unlawfully. (Perhaps, David, you know whether CIRM is following the legally-mandated procedure for funding research outside the law's intended scope: the law requires that, in addition to the ordinary grant review, there needs to be a special vote, with the proposed research garnering a two-thirds supermajority to be funded. I can find no record or even mention of the required deliberations in documents available on the CIRM website.) Half of the grant awards announced in CIRM's Dec. 12th, 2013, press release were for cancer research outside the intended scope of Prop 71: this is approximately $30 million that is not going towards regenerative medicine.

  2. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Is it not clear that Irv Weissman is CIRM's puppet master? Check out how much funding has gone to him and the surrogates he uses- young Stanford faculty dependent on him and his former postdocs who are still under his thrall.

    1. Weissman had difficulty filing his comment on "anonymous" comment so the California Stem Cell Report is filing it for him. He said, "Anonymous need not remain anonymous."

  3. Anonymous6:22 PM

    CIRM successfully fought SB 1565, which would have eliminated the two-thirds vote requirement to fund non-stem-cell research. They said at the time the vote requirement was very important. Interesting that the review summaries of the non-stem-cell cancer grants give no indication that the legally mandated votes were taken.

    1. Later this week the California Stem Cell Report expects to post an item dealing with the significant issues that our anonymous reader has raised concerning CIRM voting requirements and awards that he argues have nothing to do with stem cells.

  4. David, your interesting posts regarding funding of the genomics program further suggest that CIRM may be winging it a bit in regards to their grant application review operations. As always, your work in writing about and monitoring CIRM is greatly appreciated. --GS