Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Meeting Delays and the California Stem Cell Agency: A Matter of Many Millions of Dollars

For the second time in two months, the governing board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency has postponed important meetings which had been expected to deal with its final research awards and its declining finances. 

The latest postponement involved a Sept. 25 meeting. On the table would have been redirection of tens of millions of dollars and the question of financing awards already approved by the agency's reviewers.

Last month, an Aug. 22 session involving major awards was  cancelled. As of today, the next meeting of the agency's board will not come until Oct. 31.

The governing board of the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has before it far more reviewer-recommended awards than it can fund. Agency officials hoped that funds received from cancelled research projects would help fill the gap.

CIRM is financed with $3 billion in state bonds but has no source of significant cash beyond that. It expects to run out of money for new awards -- most likely by the end of next month -- depending on how it deals with the applications in its award pipeline. Those decisions are now likely to be made at the meeting currently scheduled for Oct. 31. 

Queried about the reason for delaying this month's meeting, Maria Bonneville, executive director of the board,  replied, 
"There were some scheduling issues and, as you know, getting the whole board together isn’t easy. (The) soonest I could get a quorum was Oct 31."
CIRM's future depends on a proposed, $5.5 billion ballot measure in November 2020 that would allow it to continue at the pace of the last 14 years. The agency also has been engaged for some time in an effort to raise privately more than $200 million to bridge the funding gap between now and the 2020 election. 

No specific progress has been publicly announced concerning that effort. However, the financial plight of the agency has received more public attention in recent months. That attention may have generated the loosening of the purse strings of some potential donors. 

The agency also may well have made a pitch to California Gov. Gavin Newsom for some sort of interim funding, possibly payable back with 2020 bond proceeds. Newsom was an important supporter of the agency in 2004-05 and engineered a $17 million package to lure its then headquarters to San Francisco when he was mayor of that city.

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