Friday, December 02, 2011

Researcher Alert: CIRM Readying $57 Million in New Opportunities

The California stem cell agency is proposing to pump $30 million into new research involving reprogrammed adult stem cells and another $27 million into fresh efforts to speed development of clinical therapies.

In a memo prepared for the CIRM directors meeting next week in Los Angeles, the agency's staff said the $30 million effort could generate "disease-in-a-dish models" that "have the potential to make drug discovery faster, more efficient and more personalized to individual patients."

The "disease-in-a-dish" plan was dubbed a "human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) initiative" by the staff. The goal is to generate high quality stem cell-based tools for use by the researchers and drug developers.

The proposal includes four elements, one of which is collaboration with the NIH to develop cell lines from patients with Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. No cost was specified on that effort. Also recommended to directors was a $4 million disease line award round, a $16 million core hiPSC derivation round and a $10 million stem cell bank round. The RFAs would go out in May of next year with funding expected early in 2013.

The staff memo on the initiative did not mention human embryonic stem cells, but a spokeswoman for the agency said they were not excluded from the effort.

The other new grant proposals up next week grew out of a recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel that CIRM organized last year to examine its operations. One element in the plan is a $12 million "bridging fund" that would apply only to current CIRM-funded projects in three areas: disease team grants, some early translational projects and clinical development projects. The bridging fund would provide up to $3 million for up to one year for each recipient, if CIRM President Alan Trounson approves the project. Trounson would be assisted in his evaluation by staff and external consultants, if necessary.

The second part of the response to the review panel's finding is an "external innovation initiative" to support collaborative efforts of CIRM grantees to work with teams that CIRM said are "making extraordinary progress outside California."

The $15 million program would provide awards as often as two times a year. The maximum amount on each award was not specified.

Ellen Feigal, CIRM's vice president of research and development, said in a memo to directors that examples of potential projects included collaborative efforts with the NIH and work with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and its disease-focused programs.

Some of the latest CIRM initiatives are open to biotech businesses. Others are open only to non-profit or academic researchers.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item did not include the sentence dealing with human embryonic stem cells.)

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