Wednesday, March 16, 2016

California Awards $37 Million for Stem Cell Research; Parkinson's Grant Deferred After Emotional Session

Directors of the California stem cell agency today approved nearly $37 million for translational stem cell research into possible therapies for afflictions ranging from cancer to Canavan disease.

The vote came routinely after a lengthy and sometimes emotional discussion involving an $8 proposal for Parkinson's disease from Scripps Institute in La Jolla that was rejected by the agency's grant review group.

Their voices cracking and tears welling up, persons with the disease appealed to the agency's directors to provide "a future without fear, a future with hope."

Cassandra Peters, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's 15 years ago, told stem cell agency president, Randy Mills, via a phone link to San Diego,
"I hope that I have the opportunity to kneel in front of you and say thank you."
On an 8-4-2 vote, the board ultimately sent the application from Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at the Scripps Institute, back to reviewers for an accelerated re-examination of her proposal, which was submitted last Nov. 20. It was reviewed on Feb. 11 behind closed doors and given a score of 70, well below the cutoff of 85.

This week, Loring said in a letter to the board that new information, including comments from the FDA, has emerged since November that will satisfy the concerns of reviewers. CIRM officials estimated it would take about two months to have the proposal re-examined. Then it would have to come back to the board for final action.

Loring's proposal and the others were reviewed under new procedures that are aimed at providing more, regular opportunities for researchers to apply for funding. Old procedures for appeals have been scrapped after failing to deal with the emotional appeals that have been generated for awards over the last decade.

Some board members were concerned that the exception granted for Loring today would stimulate a fresh wave of public pitches by scientists and patients whose proposals have not fared well with reviewers. The board is reluctant to second-guess its reviewers. Agency directors do not see the full applications for cash, just the same review summaries seen by the public, with the exception of proprietary information, which the board can see during executive sessions.

While seven other translational awards were approved, the board rejected another effort to fund research that was rejected by reviewers. In this case, the application scored only two points below the cutoff.

Speaking after the long debate on Loring's proposal, Thomas Kremen of Cedars-Sinai and Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak appeared to appeal to the board to overturn the rejection. The board, however, did not discuss the application or respond to their comments.

All seven winning institutions in this round all had ties to members of the governing board of the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). However, those board members are not allowed to vote on such applications. About 90 percent of the $1.98 billion in CIRM awards has gone to institutions with links to past or present CIRM board members.

Randy Mills, president of the agency, said in a press release,
“Many of the programs we are funding today are focused on helping find treatments for diseases that affect children, often in infancy. Because many of these diseases are rare there are limited treatment options for them, which makes it all the more important for CIRM to focus on targeting these unmet medical needs.”
Here is a link to the agency's press release on today's meeting, which includes the names of the recipients. Sphere: Related Content

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