Thursday, April 29, 2010

Duke Researcher Wins $6 million Grant From California -- With a Condition

California will give a Duke University cancer stem cell research nearly $6 million if he comes to work in the Golden State at the Sanford-Burnham Institute in La Jolla.

Directors of California's $3 billion stem cell agency, as expected, today approved the research grant for Robert Wechsler-Reya. The grant is the first installment in a $44 million program aimed at luring eight stellar researchers from their posts elsewhere in the country.

Wechsler-Reya's name was not mentioned during the brief discussion of the grant by CIRM directors at their meeting in Los Angeles. But the California Stem Cell Report identified him on Tuesday. CIRM issued a news release today that confirmed our report.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein indicated that negotiations between Burnham and Wechsler-Reya need to be concluded by the end of June, a stipulation that Burnham has apparently agreed to. Klein said approval of the grant “would be helpful in concluding the relationship.” Burnham is additionally courting Wechsler-Reya's spouse, Tannishtha Reya, another Duke researcher.

CIRM expects to review another round of applications in its recruitment program in July. The agency needs to know whether it has eight or seven grants left to make.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said it was also important to have some diversity in expertise among the scientists who are recruited. In other words, CIRM does not necessarily want to lure only cancer stem cell scientists to the state.

At one point on Tuesday, CIRM's outside counsel, James Harrison, said the grant was being taken off the directors' agenda. His statement followed our item that said Wechsler-Reya had not made a decision about leaving Duke. Later in the day, Harrison said that he made a mistake about the matter.

Burnham will not be eligible for another recruitment grant if the Wechsler-Reya goes through. Each institution is limited to one.

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