Tuesday, September 08, 2009

CIRM President to Gain More Clout in Competition for Millions in Grants

The California stem cell agency is moving to strengthen the hand of its president in the review of applications for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants.

The proposal comes before the agency's Grants Working Group tomorrow morning at a two-day meeting in San Francisco to consider applications for its ambitious $210 million disease team program, the largest single research grant round in CIRM history.

The grants group makes the de facto decisions on CIRM grants, which will total about $1 billion by the end of this year.

The group operates behind closed doors for review of applications, but the move to alter CIRM's review process will be considered and voted on in public.

According to a staff memo, the new procedures would allow CIRM President Alan Trounson to pick “acting” chairs to head each grant review session. The selection would be made from either regular or alternate members of the grants group.

It was not clear what responsibilities would remain in the hands of the existing chair position. The exact language of the proposed changes in the group's bylaws was not available on the CIRM Web site at the time of this writing.

Currently the grants review chairman is appointed by the CIRM board of directors and has sole authority to preside over scientific evaluation of grants. The position of chairman has been vacant since last November.

The CIRM staff memo said changes are called for because the $3 billion agency is broadening its research to include translational, preclinical and clinical trial programs.

CIRM said,
“Consequently, there is an important need to have chairs of CIRM review panels with the expertise and seniority that is complementary to the type of RFA being considered.”
The agency also said it is impractical to have one person lead the five to seven review meetings in San Francisco each year. CIRM said similar NIH review groups rarely meet more than twice a year.

The proposal follows CIRM board approval of changes last month in compensation for review group members that could provide perhaps $4,500 or so per grant round per scientist, depending on payment decisions by CIRM staff.

(Editor's note: Based on inaccurate information on the CIRM Web site, an earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that Stuart Orkin was chairman of the Grants Working Group. Orkin says he resigned as chairman last November and is no longer on the panel. At the time of this posting, CIRM said that the position remains vacant and has been filled over the last 10 months by others on an "acting" basis. CIRM has also corrected the information on its Web site.

(The earlier item also incorrectly stated that Trounson would appoint the administrative chair. That responsibility will remain with the CIRM board. )

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