Sunday, June 13, 2010

California Stem Cell Directors to Give Away $30 Million Next Week and Tackle Budget

One day after a one-hour meeting to consider its budget for the coming fiscal year, directors of the California stem cell agency are scheduled next week to approve the $13 million-plus spending plan.

The budget, which will go into effect at the beginning of July, was the subject of a recent kerfuffle involving the failure of the agency to post publicly its expenditure plans. The budget is among the matters to be approved by directors of the $3 billion research effort June 22-23 at a meeting in San Diego. The directors are also expected to give away $30 million in about 20 grants that are likely to involve researchers in Australia and Germany.

The grants are for stem cell transplantation immunology research, a matter of special interest to CIRM President Alan Trounson. He has said immumnology issues need to be resolved before therapies can be fully developed. Plus, the international applicants could well include some of his former colleagues in the state of Victoria in Australia. Foreign collaborators, however, must find funding elsewhere. CIRM is barred from financing research outside of California.

As usual, no details or other background information is available on the matters to be considered by the full board nor for the one-hour, budget meeting of the Finance Subcommittee. Last year, however, directors approved a $13 million budget. Presumably that figure will rise somewhat for the coming fiscal year. Maybe more, if it includes spending for hiring substantially more staff, which would be permitted under legislation pending in Sacramento.

Other matters to be decided by the board include the concept behind a new round of grants for basic biology research, appointment of new member to the Standards and Grants Working Groups and a “technical” change in the CIRM compensation program.

Also on the agency is discussion of strategic financial projections. While it is widely believed that CIRM has a 10-year life that began in 2004, no such legal limit exists. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein has discussed a timetable that extends CIRM's life to 2017. It could continue beyond that if the agency can secure additional funding after its existing $3 billion in state bonds run out.

Another discussion topic for directors is something called “development candidate portfolio review.” CIRM's agenda offered no clue to what that matter covered.

The San Diego meeting is unusually long -- scheduled for two full days. Normally the board begins late in the afternoon and then continues into the evening on the first day of a two-day meeting. It has been finishing up on the second day in mid-afternoon. Next week's meeting begins at 10 a.m. on the first day and runs to 8 p.m. The second day is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The board's Evaluation Subcommittee is in the process of conducting the first-ever evaluation of Klein's performance. It held one closed-door session last week and has another scheduled this week. A personnel session is included in the full board meeting next week. If the board takes some action on Klein, it might be announced following that executive session.

The Finance Subcommittee will hold its teleconference meeting on the budget with public access available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, La Jolla, Irvine and San Diego. Specific locations can be found on the agenda. The public will have an opportunity to participate at those locations.

The meeting of the full board is likely to be available on an audiocast on the Internet, but public participation is not available by that means. Directions for the audiocast are expected to be posted later.

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