Tuesday, September 20, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Beefing Up Ties to Industry

The $3 billion California stem cell agency will press forward next week with its efforts to become more industry-friendly, including creation of a $30 million program catering specifically to biotech.

The initiatives will be considered next Tuesday at a teleconference meeting with remote locations in both Northern and Southern California, presenting an opportunity for industry representatives to weigh in with comments or suggestions for changes in the proposed programs.

It will be only the second session of a new subcommittee of CIRM directors. It is expected to be renamed the Intellectual Property and Industry Engagement Subcommittee. The change reflects a refocusing of the panel's efforts and the appointment of Duane Roth, a San Diego businessman as co-chairman. Roth will specifically deal with industry matters.

The subcommittee is expected to "engage industry as a partner" and work to ensure that therapy development is not "unreasonably hindered," according to a CIRM document. 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.

In addition to discussion of its mission, the panel is scheduled to act on a "strategic partnership funding program" that could hand out awards of $10 million or possibly more twice a year. The initiative, which would initially be funded at $30 million, is part of CIRM's response to the findings of a blue-ribbon commission last year that determined that the agency needed to provide more support for industry.

The funds would be limited to projects that have "third party commercial validation." A staff document said that could mean "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."

Remote locations where the public and industry can participate in the meeting are in San Francisco (2), Irvine (2), Los Angeles, Woodside and La Jolla. Addresses can be found on the agenda

We should note that the background material on the issues to be considered is now available on the CIRM website, a posting that is much more timely than in the past. Consistent early postings of such material will help make it easier for industry and interested parties to follow the agency's activities and enable them to respond appropriately.

Initial membership of the committee, which is also co-chaired by Stephen Juelsgaard, formerly executive vice president of Genentech, can be found here. A transcript of the panel's first meeting last month, which involved a discussion of industry-friendly initiatives, can be found here.

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