Tuesday, August 06, 2019

California Stem Cell Agency Backs Breast/Ovarian Cancer, Brain Injury Research and More with $29 Million; $71 Million Left


Saul Priceman of the City of Hope. Priceman received $9.3 million last month from CIRM for a clinical trial for breast cancer. City of Hope video.

The California stem cell agency last month handed out $29 million to finance efforts to develop treatments for traumatic brain injury, ovarian cancer and more, leaving it with about $71 million for new research awards before its cash runs out. 

The nearly 15-year-old agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), is hoping that a yet-to-be written ballot initiative for the November 2020 ballot will give it a $5.5 billion infusion. The agency began its life in 2004 with $3 billion. 

Fresh figures from the agency show that it has about $43 million available for new awards, not including those involved in a sickle cell anemia effort with the National Institutes of Health.  CIRM's contribution to that program totals about $28 million. The agency is still accepting applications in that program. 

The amount of funds available overall to CIRM could rise as funds come back to the agency as the result of termination of unsuccessful research.

In last month's two-hour meeting, CIRM's board approved five grant applications, but not without more public discussion than has occurred in some past years when the agency was flush with cash. 

Directors talked about priorities, CIRM's portfolio and the vagaries of the scoring process, which is done behind closed doors by out-of-state researchers/reviewers who do not have to publicly disclose their professional or financial conflicts of interest. 

But the meeting also led to a reflection by CIRM board member Jeff Sheehy on the value that CIRM has brought to the field and California. Sheehy is a patient advocate of the 29-member panel. He has been on the board since its first meeting in December 2004 and leads the board's public discussion during ratification of funding decisions by reviewers.

Sheehy told his fellow board members that he had lost his mother to ovarian cancer and knew the "incredibly painful, difficult road" that she walked.  He said that CIRM is providing a new path to a better future for cancer patients and others with dreadful diseases and urged diligence in supporting renewed funding for the agency.  

In formal action, the board approved a $9.3 million investment in a clinical trial for a treatment of breast cancer, the second most common cancer in women. The trial is the 56th in which the agency is involved. The award went to Saul Priceman of the City of Hope. The review summary of his application (CLIN2-11574) can be found here. 

The CIRM panel also approved awards to the following researchers and institutions. The review summaries for all, including applications not approved, can be found here

Mark Tuszynski, $6.2 million, UC San Diego, spinal cord injury (no UCSD news release)
Evan Snyder, $4.9 million, Sanford Burnham, ischemic brain injury (no Sanford news release)
Brian Cummings, $4.8 million, UC Irvine, traumatic brain injury (UCI news release)
Mark Humayun, $3.7 million, USC, age-related macular degeneration (no USC news release)

The CIRM news release on the July meeting and awards can be found here. The transcript of the meeting can be found here. 

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