Tuesday, January 17, 2012

California to Spend $40 Million for Two Stem Cell Genomic Centers

The California stem cell agency plans to spend $40 million to create two stem cell genomic research centers, including possibly one at a for-profit research enterprise.

The proposal was approved today by CIRM directors on a vote by show of hands.

CIRM said the objective of the effort is "to transformatively advance the stem cell field." The grant program was touted by CIRM President Alan Trounson as a way for California to gain a "firm and lasting grip" on global stem cell leadership.

Writing in the January issue of Nature Biotechnology, Trounson and CIRM scientists Natalie DeWitt and Michael Yaffe said an "urgent need" exists "to ramp up efforts to establish stem cells as a leading model system for understanding human biology and disease states and ultimately to accelerate progress toward clinical translation."

They continued,
"For California to take a firm and lasting grip on leadership in stem-cell research—and, as stated in Proposition 71,'advance the biotech industry in California to world leadership as an economic engine for California’s future'— its scientists must have access to these technologies and moreover create a coordinated international enterprise to maximize the reach and impact of stem cell genomics. Genomics is creating a sea change in biomedical research and medicine, and accordingly, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM; San Francisco) can create a process through which stem-cell research can participate and even provide leadership in a new era of medicine."
The stem cell agency staff proposal to directors said,
"Genomics technologies and the data sets they yield are fast becoming the currency of biology and medicine. The cost of genome sequencing is dropping exponentially, a trend that will soon make genome-scale characterization a practical tool for fundamental studies of stem cell biology and for advancing therapeutic applications. Meanwhile, cell therapeutics are advancing toward clinical trials, and hES and hiPS cells have become the gold standard for studying human cell biology, tissue and organ development and repair, and disease. Combining genomic technologies with stem cell research will accelerate fundamental understanding of human biology, disease mechanisms, tissue engineering and cell therapies...."
Awards for the centers of up to $20 million each are scheduled to be awarded next winter.

Here is a link to the CIRM press release on the proposal.


  1. Anonymous11:14 AM

    It seems improper to have Venter lecture at this week's CIRM Board meeting about genomics--the same meeting at which the Board was deciding whether to fund the CIRM Genomics Centers of Excellence Grant Program--when Venter is certain to be an applicant for this funding.

    Venter was also the keynote speaker at the CIRM grantee meeting this year at which CIRM seemed a bit star struck by him.

    Word on the street is that CIRM has already for all intents and purposes decided to give Venter one of these genomics grants for $20 million before the RFA has even come out, which is not how the process is supposed to work, right?

    Perhaps Venter should be ineligible to apply for this RFA given that CIRM has already given him an unfair advantage over all the other potential applicants by giving him not one but two unique opportunities to sell his case to the decision makers at CIRM.

  2. CIRM always seeks to pair scientific and clinical experts with patient advocates for its Spotlight section at the ICOC public meetings. The focus of this spotlight was on the application of genomics to advance stem cell science into therapies for patients. Dr. Venter is a recognized leader in the field of genomics since its inception. He was paired with a recognized expert in the field of leukemia (Dr. Catriona Jamieson) and a patient advocate who benefited from therapy that arose from the use of genomics.

    In putting together the Genomics concept proposal, CIRM sought a wide range of inputs from about 50 scientists, editors, executives, and program administrators in California and throughout the United States. The goal was to put together a concept proposal that would maximize the use of CIRM funds to provide the platform in California for constructing a range of genomic studies focusing on the biology and therapeutic application of stem cells.

    At this meeting the ICOC was considering a concept proposal, not considering funding recommendations. The request for applications (RFA) has not even been written. CIRM plans to write the RFA, with details regarding eligibility and review criteria, for posting in Spring 2012. The proposals submitted for this RFA will be evaluated on their merits by a group of scientists, all of whom come from outside California. No decisions have been or will be made until recommendations from that independent group of external scientists come to the ICOC for a funding decision later in the year.

    Ellen Feigal, M.D.
    Senior Vice President, Research and Development


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