|Proposal by Tim Hoey|
of OncoMed outscored
leading research institutions.
The industry has long been unhappy with its picayune share of the $1.3 billion that CIRM has given away so far. The agency has talked about moving towards a more business-friendly position, but last week's awards were the first hard-cash demonstration – albeit a tiny one – of CIRM's commitment.
The round totalled only $1.8 million. Four biotech businesses were awarded $368,519. However, the awards are for planning for applications for a whopping $240 million disease team round next year. It is all part of a CIRM's aggressive push for clinical therapies.
The success rate for the business applicants was also high – 50 percent. Eight firms applied, CIRM told the California Stem Cell Report. In all, 36 applications were received and 19 approved.
Since CIRM began approving awards in late 2005, only 7 percent of all grants have gone to businesses -- that in a state that is one of the hotbeds globally of the biotech industry.
Scoring the highest in last week's round with an 87 was the application , for $65,120 from Tim Hoey, a senior vice president at OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Redwood City, Ca. The score topped applicants from Stanford, UCLA and other vaunted stem cell research institutions. OncoMed is looking at developing a new anti-cancer drug.
The winning businesses included two publicly traded firms, Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Ca., and Stem Cells Inc., of Newark, Ca. It was the second CIRM award for Geron, which won a $25 million loan last May for help with its spinal injury clinical trial.
Geron's $106,239 planning grant (scored at 79) involves an hESC treatment for heart failure. Jane Lebkowski, senior vice president and chief scientific officer, is the principal investigator on the project. Stem Cells Inc. received $98,050 for a look at an Alzheimer's treatment. Its proposal also scored 79. Alexandra Capela is taking the lead on the project.
The fourth winning business was Wintherix, LLC, San Diego, Ca., which scored 69 on its $99,110 application. John Hood, chief scientific officer and a co-founder of the firm will lead the research into a therapy for osteoporosis-related fractures.
Only one of the applications – the one from Geron – appears to involve research using human embryonic stem cells, the raison d'etre for voter approval of the California stem cell agency in 2004. The ballot measure that created CIRM was justified by backers because former President Bush had restricted federal funding of hESC research, a ban that has since been lifted by President Obama.