Wednesday, March 05, 2014

$72 Million for Commercial Stem Cell Therapies?

The $3 billion California stem cell agency next week is likely to move to pump about 12 percent of its remaining, dwindling cash into business-friendly efforts to develop commercial therapies.

Coming before the agency's governing board on March 13 are two “concept” proposals for grant and loan programs totaling $72 million that are in line with CIRM's drive towards the marketplace and fulfillment of the promises of the 2004 ballot campaign that created the agency.

The proposals are coming from the agency's staff and fit with the strategic direction of the board. Such proposals have almost never been rejected in the past. But the board has demonstrated some fiscal concern in recent months as its uncommitted funds have shrunk to roughly $600 million, according an estimate presented by agency Chairman Jonathan Thomas in late January. The agency is scheduled to run out of cash for new awards in 2017.

The largest new proposal before the board would provide up to $40 million for four or five preclinical development awards. They would be aimed at development activities prior to a phase one clinical trial and at helping to attract future funding. Businesses and non-profits would eligible with businesses possibly taking a forgivable loan.

The second proposal would provide up to $32 million for possibly three awards in the agency's strategic partnership program ranging from $10 million to $12 million. The objective would be completion of a phase one or phase two clinical trial within three years. Matching funding would be required. Both businesses and non-profits would be eligible with forgivable loans a possibility for businesses.

If potential competitors for the awards are interested in shaping the direction of the proposals, next week's meeting in Burlingame is the time to appear before the board. The next step is posting a request for applications, scheduled for April and May. Board action on applications would come early next year.

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