Wednesday, December 10, 2008

$20 Million Handed Out by CIRM and First Ever Successful Conflict Appeal

IRVINE, Ca. -- Directors of the California stem cell agency today approved $20 million for research grants to develop tools and technology for stem cell research, but not before overturning the decisions of reviewers on two grants.

The applications were removed from the list that reviewers said should be funded. They were moved to a category that will be considered next month. The action came as CIRM directors worried about the financial condition of the agency and of the state of California, which is facing a $28 billion budget shortfall.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein assured the board that the agency had sufficient funds to operate at least through June. The agency derives its funding from state bonds. The cash that comes from those bonds cannot be touched by the governor or the legislature. However, the state has stopped selling bonds because of the nation's ongoing financial crisis.

The agency did not provide the names of the scientists and institutions whose grants were removed from the funding list, but their numbers are 1050 and 1062.

The board also approved a $1.7 million new cell line grant. It was the first-ever successful appeal of a negative decision by the CIRM Grants Working Group on conflict-of-interest grounds. As we reported earlier, the application was removed in June from consideration of the new cell lines applications.

CIRM President Alan Trounson told directors today that the applicant appealed the negative decision on the basis of a personal conflict of interest on the part of a reviewer. He said "circumstantial evidence" existed that the application "may not have been fairly reviewed."

He said that such allegations are hard to prove and that such conflicts "may not be recognized by both scientists."

Ed Penhoet, a member of the CIRM board, said that scientists often have strong disagreements and that should not be taken as necessarily involving malice.

CIRM has not yet released the names of either the recipients of the tools and technology grants nor that of the new cell line grant applicant

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