Monday, June 23, 2008

California's Big Biotech Loan Program Headed for Approval in August?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California stem cell agency's proposed $500 million biotech loan program seems to be headed for August action by the agency's board of directors, but not before size of the program, conflict of interest questions and underwriting issues are resolved.

The Finance Subcommittee of CIRM's board of directors discussed the proposal briefly on Friday, identifying policy questions that remain to addressed by the subcommittee. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, who originated the plan, said the size of the program was critical. Without sufficient bulk, the size of individual loans would be limited. Klein said that clinical trials involve "very large loans."

CIRM Director Duane Roth said that directors also have to address potential conflict of interest questions that might arise during the loan-making process, a concern echoed by John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the Consumer Watchdog group.

Klein also said that CIRM does not a large enough staff or expertise to handle a loan program. He said it would have to involve some sort of financial underwriting, similar to the type of underwriting practices at Fannie Mae, the housing loan organization.

No documents from CIRM about the program were available at the meeting or before it.

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