Tuesday, September 27, 2011

$30 Million Industry-friendly Plan Moves Forward at California Stem Cell Agency

SAN FRANCISCO – A key panel of directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency this morning approved a $30 million effort to speed development of therapies and to reach out to the biotech industry.

The new initiative was approved with little discussion at a brief teleconference meeting of the new Intellectual Property Subcommittee. The proposal will now go to the directors' Science Subcommittee and the full board, probably late next month. Approval is expected.

Under the plan, companies could receive awards of up to $10 million. The funds would be offered in a twice-a-year round. The projects would be required to have "third party commercial validation." A CIRM staff document prepared by its general counsel, Elona Baum, said,
"Forms of such validation may include a term sheet or letter of intent with a pharmaceutical or large biotechnology company (provided a binding agreement is entered into prior to the disbursement of CIRM funds), and/or significant investment from venture capital, disease foundation funding or other sources of third party or government funding, including SBIR funding."
Paul Hastings, CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals of Redwood City, Ca., and chairman of BayBio, the Northern California industry group, recommended a slight modification in the proposal, which was adopted by the CIRM panel. Hastings' suggestion stipulates that a collaborative agreement would serve as third party validation.

CIRM's proposal came in response to last year's recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel that CIRM should be far more active in engaging the biotech industry, which has been less than pleased with its tiny share of the $1.3 billion in funds handed out so far by CIRM.

At the end of the session today, Hastings said he was "very encouraged." He said he was "looking forward to working with CIRM in a more proactive way." The session may have been the first ever public CIRM meeting attended by a chairman of the BayBio, which represents more than 450 life science enterprises.

The IP subcommittee also approved a change in its name and focus to emphasize that the agency will be moving more aggressively to engage the industry. Its co-chair, Duane Roth, a San Diego businessman, is being charged with fostering better industry ties.

The panel's new name will be the Intellectual Property and Industry Engagement Subcommittee. The group is expected to "engage industry as a partner" and work to ensure that therapy development is not "unreasonably hindered." The panel is also slated to develop policies to encourage "participation by industry representatives as scientific members" of the CIRM grant review group, which makes the de facto decisions on grants. The subcommittee is additionally expected to deal with industry financing issues.

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