Monday, December 19, 2016

Ambitious, $150 Million, California Plan for Stem Cell 'Powerhouse' Stalls

Highlights
$75 million state loan
Pick of stem cell research
Agency vague on problems

The California stem cell agency's bold plan to create a unique, $150 million, public-private company to speed development of stem cell therapies has hit a significant snag, stalling its progress indefinitely.

The agency, however, says it hasn't given up and will try to find solutions to the undisclosed problems.

Under the proposal -- first advanced a year ago -- California would provide a $75 million loan to a partner that would also provide $75 million. The goal would be to create a "powerhouse" that would likely be one of the landmark legacies of the $3 billion agency. The partner would be expected to pay back only 50 percent of the loan plus interest. The new company would also have the pick of the 94 percent of the agency research that doesn't already have a business partner. 

The public-private biotech partnership  -- dubbed ATP3 -- would be the first in state history and the first of such magnitude nationally.

The agency has been working for much of 2016 to recruit applicants and to address potential concerns. The difficulties began to surface last fall at the Oct. 31 deadline for applications. The agency declined to disclose to the California Stem Cell Report even the number of applications it had received. A spokesman said only that the agency was checking to see if they were "eligible."

The chairman of the agency, Jonathan Thomas, went public with slightly more information at last week's meeting of the agency's governing board.

He referred to a "number of applicants" that were involved. He said that issues still exist and that the application(s) that were submitted to the agency will not be given to the agency's reviewers as scheduled. Thomas said the request for applications may extended and some criteria adjusted.

Randy Mills, president of the agency, said later in the meeting that an effort would be made to make the plan "compliant with state requirements and palatable to taxpayers." He described it as an "ongoing challenge."

Mills said,
"We haven’t given up but we haven’t nailed it yet."
No public questions were raised at the meeting by 29-directors of the agency, which is officially known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

It was created 12 years ago by a ballot initiative approved by voters and relies on money borrowed by the state(bonds). The ballot campaign indicated that stem cell therapies were close on the horizon. However, the agency has not developed a therapy for widespread use.

It estimates that it has about $692 million left for awards. The agency's funds are projected to run out in 2020. No additional funding is in sight.
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