Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CIRM Millions To Help Snag Duke star Wechsler-Reya for Burnham

The recipient of CIRM's first Research Leadership Award, with $5.9 million in funding, is Robert Wechsler-Reya (at left) of Duke University, a reliable source said today.

He told the California Stem Cell Report he is considering leaving Duke and joining the Sanford Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Ca., where the CIRM-funded research is expected to be performed. Sanford Burnham is providing “an extremely generous commitment of laboratory space, matching funds for equipment, additional support for relocation and research, and access to excellent core facilities,” CIRM grant reviewers said.

(An earlier version of this item said Wechsler-Reya had decided to leave Duke. After it was published, he said in an email that he had not yet made a decision. CIRM, however, does not fund work performed outside of California.)

The reviewers also said that Sanford Burnham “has committed to recruiting the candidate's spouse(Tannishtha Reya, also at Duke, photo at right), who is an independent stem cell scientist; this represents a particularly beneficial leveraging of award funds.”­

The leadership award program, budgeted for a total of $44 million over two years, is aimed at recruiting top talent to California by means of assisting institutions with financing. The effort's goal is to attract perhaps eight scientists, although the first round this year drew only one applicant.

The stem cell agency has not identified Wechsler-Reya in keeping with its secrecy policy concerning the names of applicants. Directors are expected to approve the grant either tomorrow or Thursday. Then the agency will confirm the name.

John Reed, chief executive of Sanford Burnham, is also a member of the CIRM board of directors. He or his alternate is expected to be recused from both the discussion and voting on the grant for Wechsler-Reya. Reviewers have already approved the grant. CIRM directors almost never overturn positive decisions by reviewers, who conduct their work behind closed doors.

We have queried both researchers concerning the grant and their plans. We will carry their responses verbatim when we receive them. (See the "Still Mulling" item.)

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