Tuesday, June 26, 2018

California Stem Cell Agency Steps Up Public Access to Key Meeting This Week; Brain Cancer and Parkinson's On Tap

Stem cell researchers and the public -- from wherever they are around the world -- will have a chance Thursday to take part remotely for the first time during a meeting of the governing board of California's $3 billion stem cell agency.

The session will include approval of two awards totaling $9.5 million, approval of a $16.8 million operating budget, approval of a revised conflict of interest code along with a quasi-mysterious matter dealing with "programmatic tools."

At the time of this posting, the agency, formally known as the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), had not added online any background material supporting the cryptic, agenda item. However, the general subject deals with decisions that the board makes on applications for funding. In addition to scientific considerations, the board can base its decisions on non-scientific matters, such as whether the application really fits with the CIRM program.

(After this item was posted, the agency added to the agenda a number of slides dealing with the grant-making process and use of programmatic criteria. The California Stem Cell Report will carry an item on those slides tomorrow. Update: That item has now been posted.)

Interested persons will be able -- for the first time -- to make comments not only that matter but others from wherever they are. But they must be logged on to the audiocast/webcast of the session in order to be recognized. The agenda contains directions on how to do that. During the meeting, online participants will be asked if they have a comment. We recommend setting up the connection in advance of the meeting. It may require some tweaking, depending on your computer figuration.

The agency has successfully tested the new public comment feature on a few committee hearings. This will be the first experience with a full board meeting.

The awards expected to be made include a  $5.8 million application for Parkinson's disease and a $3.7 million application for glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Reviewers, meeting behind closed doors, have already approved the awards. The board must ratify their decisions in public. (Here are links to review summaries on the Parkinson's application and the glioblastoma application, plus comments by a Scripps Research Institute scientist on the Parkinson's application.

John Zaia of the City of Hope wrote a letter to the board commenting on the public summary of his glioblastoma application, critiquing reviewer comments. He said,
"Based on our experience with two previous FDA-approved pilot trials, we foresee no major hurdles to completing an IND, recruiting patients, manufacturing the therapeutic cell product, and eventually conducting the clinical trial."
The agency does not release the names of applicants until action is taken by the board, but when a letter is written by an applicant, his/her name becomes public along with the letter.

The proposed budget for the 2018-19 year stands at $16.8 million, up 7 percent from an estimated spending of $15.7 million for this fiscal year. The budget for research awards is separate and has been normally set in December. However, some board members have indicated that are are interested in trimming the amount of awards to be given annually in order to extend the life of the agency.

Under current spending rates, the agency expects to run out of money for new awards by the end of next year. It is pinning its hope for survival on a private fundraising effort now underway and voter approval of a proposed $5 billion bond measure in November 2020.  An update on the fundraising effort may be presented Thursday by CIRM board chairman J.T. Thomas.   Sphere: Related Content

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