Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CIRM to Hand Out $60 Million Next Week in Move Towards the Clinic

Directors of the California's financially troubled stem cell agency are likely to receive a bit of good news one week from today as they meet in Los Angeles to give away $60 million for projects to push stem cells into the clinic.

CIRM has been suffering from a cash crunch, but today the state of California is going to market with as much as $4 billion in taxable bonds. CIRM is on tap to receive a good chunk of that, probably enough to keep it from running out of funds by this fall.

The bond sale is not mentioned in the formal agenda, but Chairman Bob Klein will certainly discuss it along with his plan to sell state bonds privately on behalf of the $3 billion enterprise.

The directors are also scheduled to approve 10 grants totaling $60 million for early translational research. CIRM says the awards

"...are designed to move promising basic research in stem cell science toward the clinic. These awards will support two categories of projects including research that: 1) results in a development candidate that meets an unmet medical need; or 2) addresses a significant bottleneck in the translation of stem cell biology that hinders advancement of effective, novel cell therapies to the clinic."

The topic of the awards could trigger general discussion of the direction of CIRM and its strategic plan, although the plan is not on the agenda. CIRM President Alan Trounson may bring it up during his report to the board.

CIRM's direction recently came under review in a piece in the San Francisco Weekly that was headlined "Stem-cell stalemate: The push for cures may produce only disappointment - or worse."

Also on tap is the proposed co-sponsorship of the 2010 San Francisco convention of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. The latest price tag for that is $250,000, down from $400,000. CIRM has said it will help the group raise $150,000, a move that drew some fire from John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca.

Also on tap are evaluation procedures for CIRM's chair, vice chair and president along with consideration of two pieces of federal legislation and the proposed NIH rules for human embryonic stem cell research (see "CIRM and the NIH").

As usual, CIRM has not provided any links or background information on all these issues on the agenda on its web site. That means that the public is hard pressed to determine the significance of the cryptic listings of matters to come before directors of the world's largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research. Without some frame of reference, interested parties – be they business, academic or otherwise – find it difficult to determine whether their enterprises are being affected.

Although Klein has repeatedly pledged to adhere to the highest standards of openness, CIRM's chronic failure to post background material in a timely fashion demonstrates the bankruptcy of that pledge.

We are asking CIRM whether there are issues or other problems that we do not understand concerning the failure to post background material.

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