Thursday, October 23, 2014

$34 Million Stem Cell Effort: California Kicks Off Its Alpha Clinic Global Leadership Plan

Directors of the California stem cell today launched a $34 million effort to create a string of Alpha stem cell clinics intended to make the Golden State the leading spot globally for stem treatments and research.

The winners of $8 million grants each were the City of Hope in Duarte, Ca.; the University of California, San Diego, and UCLA, whose proposal included UC Irvine.  Three applications were rejected including those from Cedars-Sinai and UC Davis, which appealed an earlier negative reviewer decision. Action on a fourth application was delayed because of an unspecified allegation of a conflict-of-interest during the closed-door review process.

(Here is a link to the CIRM press release.)

Upcoming in a grant round next year will be creation of a related, $10 million Alpha data and information center that would be both a central repository for research and an education/marketing effort for patients and the public.

The concept for the one-stop centers was first offered in 2011 by former agency President Alan Trounson, who resigned earlier this year to return to Australia.  Nature Medicine reported that the Alpha clinics would be the first-ever “clinical trials network focused around a broad therapeutic platform.”

 The Alpha proposal was originally budgeted at $70 million with up to five Alpha clinics including a $15 million information center.  However, there was no requirement that all five awards be made.

Earlier this year, Randy Mills, the new president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, successfully recommended slicing $5 million from the data center. The proposal is now being recast. 

Each of the winners is contributing considerable resources to the Alpha plan along with two clinical trials. The nature of those contributions and their size was not disclosed to the public or the directors. Seven applications were considered by reviewers with some including more than one major institution.

Afflictions targeted by the winning institutions range from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and spinal cord injury.  The effort is part of CIRM’s push to fulfill the promises of the ballot campaign of 2004 that created the agency.

The drive to produce actual treatments is also critical to generating fresh financial support for CIRM, which is expected to run out of cash in about 2020. It currently relies on money that the state is borrowing and that flows directly to the agency without going through the normal budgetary process.

Today’s action included cuts in the research budgets proposed by the winners, who sought $11 million to $11.7 million each. Instead the board put a cap of $8 million on the grants. The cuts came after concerns were raised about duplication of costs and inclusion of expenses related to the proposed data/information center.

The nature of each grant’s budget changes will be subject to negotiations with members of the agency’s team.

Here are links to selected, previous items on the Alpha clinic plan:
TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2013
Alan Trounson, president of the California stem cell agency, this summer plans to seek $70 million for creation of what he calls Alpha Clinics, high-powered organizations that will fast-track stem cell therapies to patients.
In addition to the comments filed online in connection with the $70 million proposal to create Alpha Clinics in California for stem cell treatments,  two other readers commented privately in emails. 

One came from a close observer of the stem cell agency who said, “If done right -- and I'm sure you and I agree that is a big 'if' – it could be an outstanding legacy.”

The other comment came from a physician-researcher at a major California institution and was longer and more critical.
MONDAY, JULY 22, 2013
Want to know more about the business aspects of a $70 million proposal to create a chain of“Alpha” stem cell clinics in California?

More details can be found in a report from the California stem cell agency titled “Alpha Stem Cell Clinics: Delivering a New Kind of Medicine.”
California's $70 million plan for a chain of “Alpha” stem cell clinics today received its first major attention from the mainstream media. 
A $70 million race was kicked off last month as the California stem cell agency invited eight institutions to compete to create what it calls Alpha Clinics, enterprises that would attract patients from throughout the world for stem cell therapies.
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