Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Immunology Grants: CIRM Gives $25 Million to 19 Researchers

Directors of the California stem cell agency today approved $25 million for immunology research, overturning four negative decisions by its grant reviewers.

Directors faced a record nine public petitions to reverse its reviewers. After some grumbling, the directors, who see only a summary of the application and reviewer comments, okayed the four.

Successful petitioners included Jeanne Loring of Scripps, Husein Hadeiba of the Palo Alto Institute for Research Education and Judith Shizuru of Stanford University. A fourth grant that failed to pass muster by reviewers was also approved by the board, but without a petition. That went to Yang Xu of UC San Diego.

Forty-four applications were reviewed by the CIRM Grants Working Group, which approved 15, all of which were ratified  by the full board in addition to the four reviewer-rejected proposals. 

The board almost never overturns a positive decision by reviewers and only occasionally approves an application that has been rejected.

The CIRM directors have not been happy with their appeal/petition process for several years. A review of the procedures is scheduled for later this summer. Some changes are certain to be enacted and will affect the outcome of future applications.

Today one CIRM director again expressed exasperation. He was not clearly identified during the Internet audiocast of the board meeting, but he described himself as a scientist. Noting that the directors had limited information about the applications, he said,
“I don't think we have the ability to add value to the process.”
He also said,
“What do we think we are doing... Are we going to fund bad science?”
He said CIRM is “getting more and more applications on the margin.”

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein said the stem cell agency would only fund good science.

Loring was the lone researcher to appear before the CIRM directors at their meeting in San Diego. She said she was only there to answer questions. Elaine Reed of UCLA addressed the board via a teleconference location at the City of Hope in Duarte. However, she was not successful. Any person is entitled to speak to the board under state law.

Director Jeff Sheehy, who serves on the grants review group, said the round may be the first time that stem cell scientists have teamed with transplant immunologists to focus on issues of rejection of stem cells.

CIRM staff told the board that initially only 10 out of 44 applications qualified for approval, based on reviewer scores. Five more were added for “programmatic” reasons, which appears to mean that they are worth pursuing because they fit CIRM's goals.

Summaries of all the reviews of the grants can be found here. Click on the number of the grant to go to the review. Here is a link to the CIRM press release that identifies all the winners by name along with the number of their grant. Names of the rejected applicants are withheld by CIRM with the exception of those who file public appeals. Names of reviewers on specific grants are also withheld along with their statements of their financial and professional interests.

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