Sunday, January 04, 2015

LA Times: Researchers Sure to Find 'Lot to Like' in CIRM 2.0

The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper with the largest circulation in California, today took a crack at the California stem cell agency and its “reboot” as CIRM 2.0.

The piece was written by Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who has often been a critic of the $3 billion state research program.  The springboard for the article was the restructuring of the agency’s grant process, which its new president, Randy Mills, has dubbed CIRM 2.0.  The abbreviation comes from the formal name of the agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Hiltzik wrote,
“Biomedical researchers are sure to find a lot to like about CIRM 2.0, especially Mills' commitment to streamline the program's grant and loan approval process for projects aimed at clinical trials of potential therapies. Reviews of applications take about 22 months on average; Mills hopes to cut that to about three months.”
Hiltzik said the new effort, which began just this month, was initiated by Mills after “he reached the conclusion that 'there was a lot of room for improvement.’”  Hiltzik wrote,
“That's a striking admission for a program that already has allocated roughly two-thirds of its original $3-billion endowment.” 
Hiltzik discussed the pressure to fulfill the public expectations for quick development of stem cell cures that were generated by the 2004 ballot campaign that created the agency in 2004. He also addressed the pressure to find new sources of funding by 2020, when the money is expected to run out.  Hiltzik wrote,  
“Mills says winning approval for more public funding isn't the goal of CIRM 2.0. ‘It's not our job at CIRM to extend the life of CIRM,’ he told me. Instead, he couches the need for urgency in terms of serving patients.”
Hiltzik continued, 
“As head of CIRM, however, Mills can't escape the tyranny of public expectations. CIRM's mandate, as he describes it, is ‘to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet needs.’ That presupposes that stem cell treatments exist or will be found for the major medical conditions at which Proposition 71 was aimed. What if science and nature don't cooperate?”
Hiltzik also touched on the competition involving funding of clinical trials and funding of basic research.
Arnold Kriegstein in front of CIRM-financed stem cell
research building -- UCSF photo
“Academic researchers may have a legitimate concern about too much money shifting toward late-stage research prematurely. ‘The field is so young,’ says Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem cell lab at UC San Francisco, ‘that it's unreasonable to expect that fully transformational therapies are just a few years away. This is the time to continue basic research programs, not cut them off.’”
Hiltzik concluded, 
“Despite the program's unquestionably positive impact on stem cell science, especially in California, it still lacks a coherent sense of its proper role. CIRM 2.0 is the latest effort to find that role, but it may not be the last.”
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1 comment:

  1. I'm more optimistic than Dr. Kriegstein. I agree that we are far from knowing as much as we can about human stem cells. While my lab strives to solidify our basic knowledge about human pluripotent stem cells, we are also inspired by the opportunity that CIRM is providing for academic scientists to achieve a goal that most of us can only think about- helping patients with incurable disease.