Thursday, January 29, 2009

CIRM Directors Wrestle With Bad News and Funding for Training

Directors of the California stem cell agency have put off action until at least later today on requests for $66 million in training grants following briefings that sketched out what some directors characterized as a financial crisis for the research funding enterprise.

Most of the nearly six-hour board meeting Thursday afternoon and evening in Burlingame, Ca., was devoted to what CIRM Chairman Robert Klein called a "crisis environment." Ultimately some directors began to question whether the board should even take up the requests for the training program grants. Some argued that they should be deferred at least until March or perhaps April when the state government financial picture might be clearer.

Others argued that the CIRM board should move forward with approvals with a caveat that the grants would be funded only if money was available. CIRM did that on its first round of grants in 2005, when it also faced the inability to sell the state bonds that it relies on.

Director Sherry Lansing(see photo), a former Hollywood film studio executive, said the agency should act on the training grants. She said,
"If we don't, we are sending a clear message that we are out of business."
The financial pressure on CIRM was bad news for applicants in the second-ranked tier of applications. Normally some of those are funded along with those in the top tier, but the directors' new caution would appear to make that unlikely whenever the applications come up for approval.

The board will resume its meeting this morning. You can listen in via the instructions that can be found here. Our reporting on the meeting is based on what could be heard on what was the first-ever audio Webcast of a CIRM board meeting.

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