Friday, January 24, 2014

Stanford Genomics Consortium Likely Winner in $33 Million Stem Cell Agency Project

A seven-member consortium led by Stanford University's Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine is expected next week to win a $33 million award from the California stem cell agency to create a stem cell genomics center.

Michael Snyder
Stanford photo
Information confirming the identity of the likely winner was posted on the CIRM Web site today. It came in the form of a letter from Michael Snyder, director of the Stanford genomics center.  In the document, Snyder told stem cell agency directors that his group is “very pleased with the overall enthusiasm” for its

CIRM's reviewers gave the proposal an overall scientific score of 88 and recommended it for funding. It was the only application in the genomics round that was also supported by CIRM President Alan Trounson and his staff.

Trounson recommended no funding for the three other applications that the agency's prestigious reviewers had approved for cash.

The board is certain to hear presentations at its meeting next Wednesday from one or more of the applicants that were rejected by Trounson and his staff. The board has final say on all applications and can add or subtract money for the genomics round, which is budgeted for $40 million.

The nine-year-old practice of the board has been to fund virtually all of the applications backed by its scientific reviewers, all of whom come from out of state. Trounson's recommendations would represent a sharp departure from that practice.

Earlier this week the agency offered no public rationale on its Web site for its recommendations to reject the reviewer-backed applications. However, either late yesterday or early today, a CIRM document dated Jan. 15 was posted by the agency that provided more information. The terse statement said that the Stanford proposal – with the changes recommended by the CIRM staff –  “will fulfill all of the aims of the RFA and provide an excellent, responsive and comprehensive genomics resource for California stem cell researchers.”

Snyder's letter to the CIRM board asked it to approve Stanford's entire application and rebuff staff recommendations for changes. He said that some of the grant reviewer objections were “based on material errors of fact or scientific details that were not explicitly addressed in the proposal due to space limits.”

Stephen Quake
Stanford photo
Michael Clarke
Stanford photo
Snyder's letter also identified two other Stanford researchers involved in the project:  Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering, and Michael Clarke, associate director of the Stanford stem cell institute headed by noted stem cell scientist Irv Weissman. Clarke was identified as a “collaborator” and Quake as a principal investigator on one of the consortium's projects.

None of the other competing institutions was identified by CIRM. The stem cell agency does not release the names of winners until after the board acts on their applications. The agency never releases the names of rejected applicants for fear of embarrassing them.

CIRM's summary of the grant review said the Stanford proposal involves seven major academic and nonprofit institutions that are providing “very substantial matching funds.”

The summary continued,
“Although some reviewers expressed minor concerns that the multiple, geographically separated components of this large and interdependent program could pose an administrative challenge, overall, reviewers expressed much confidence in the demonstrated abilities and collaborative experience of the program leaders for achieving a shared vision.”
Reviewers cited as a “major strength” the ability of applicants to handle the processing of massive amounts of data needed for genomics research. The summary said,
“The leader of this center component is a pioneer in the field and has an outstanding track record in the proposed activities.”
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