Sunday, January 18, 2015

California to Pump $35 Million into Removing Stem Cell Therapy Roadblocks

California is set to give away as much as $35 million later this month to create tools and technology to help researchers develop the stem cell therapies that were promised to voters 11 years ago.

The idea behind the awards is to eliminate bottlenecks that block commercialization of research. California’s $3 billion stem cell program was created by voters late in 2004 with the expectation that it would quickly lead to stem cell cures.  It has spent about $1.9 billion so far but no therapies have reached the marketplace.

The latest, $35 million round is budgeted for as many as 20 awards of up to $1.2 million each to be distributed over a period as long as three years.  The $1.2 million is for "direct" research costs. CIRM would also pay for "indirect" costs that raise the total substantially.

Applications were sought last year from both academics and businesses with possible collaboration involving out-of-state partners, including China, Australia, Germany and Brazil.  Non-California enterprises would not receive funding from the state agency.

Action on the applications is part of the agenda for the Jan. 29 meeting of the 29-member governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the formal name of the stem cell agency.  

The round is not part of the new fast-track program, CIRM 2.0, initiated by CIRM President Randy Mills. The “tools” effort contains different timetables, among other things. The work must begin within six months of approval of the awards, considerably longer than the 45 days specified under CIRM 2.0, which began just this month.  The old process also contained a pre-application review that has been eliminated.

The board is additionally expected to approve new rules for CIRM 2.0 awards, including loans to businesses.  Given that the deadline for applying for the first round of CIRM 2.0 is Jan. 31, potential applicants would be well-served to scrutinize the proposed new regulations. Interested parties can make comments or suggestions in advance of the board meeting and the related sessions of the board’s Science Subcommittee on Tuesday and the Intellectual Property (IP) Subcommittee on Jan. 26.  

The grant rules can be found on the Science panel agenda. The new loan rules have not yet been posted on the IP agenda. Comments can be sent by email to or made at one of the public meeting sites. 

Public teleconference sites for the Science Subcommittee session Tuesday include San Francisco, Oakland, Irvine, Duarte, La Jolla and Sacramento. Addresses are on the agenda.  The only public site listed currently for the IP subcommittee is San Francisco.

The Jan. 29 full board meeting will be held in Burlingame but remote teleconference locations are also available where the public can participate. They currently include locations in Irvine and La Jolla, but that could change prior to the meeting.  Addresses are available on the agenda. 

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