Wednesday, April 11, 2012

California Stem Cell Agency Nixes ACT Grant Applications 15 Times

(Editor's note: The assertion in this item that 15 applications by ACT were rejected by the California stem cell agency is incorrect, according to the venture capitalist who made the statement. He retracted it on the afternoon of April 12. His explanation can be found here. )

IRVINE, Ca. --The only firm in the nation conducting an ongoing hESC clinical trial has been rejected 15 times for funding by California's $3 billion stem cell agency.

The figure was reported yesterday at a hearing by the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel looking into the performance of the stem cell agency, which has been sharply criticized in recent years for its paucity of industry funding.

Gregory Bonfiglio, managing partner in Proteus Regenerative Medicine, a stem cell venture capital firm in Portola Valley, Ca., disclosed the grant attempts by Advanced Cell Technology, whose nominal headquarters are in Santa Monica, Ca. Bonfiglio indicated that it was a high profile example of how CIRM is not taking the necessary steps to fulfill its goal of developing therapies that actually reach the clinic.

He noted that ACT received national attention in January when it posted favorable findings for its clinical trial at UCLA dealing with blindness but that the firm was still unable to win a CIRM grant over the last several years.

ACT had moved much of its operations to California in the wake of passage of Proposition 71, the measure that created the state's stem cell research effort in 2004. It has since re-centered its operations in Massachusetts.

The California Stem Cell Report has queried ACT on its grant efforts and will carry its response verbatim when it is received.

Another firm, which cannot be identified, said privately yesterday that it was rejected 14 times.

According to our calculations based on figures this morning on the CIRM web site, businesses have received only $54.3 million in grants and loans during the last seven years, 4 percent of the $1.3 billion awarded. However, the CIRM list slightly understates the industry total. At least two other firms are sharing in two $20 million grants involving academic institutions, but are not noted on the list.

Yesterday's IOM meeting was the second and final California public session for the CIRM inquiry. Most of the day was occupied by a variety of critiques of the organization. The panel has already heard extensively from the agency itself and beneficiaries of its grants. The IOM report is expected in November.

Harold Shapiro, chairman of the panel and former president of Princeton University, described yesterday afternoon's panel involving stem cell business executives as "one of the more interesting" of the day.

One of the speakers was Michael West, CEO of Biotime in Alameda, which has received $4.7 million from CIRM. West, the founder of Geron, was also head of ACT when it moved it to California. He said CIRM had several "blind spots," including misconceptions about how products are made. For example, West said, CIRM's performance indicates that it does not fully understand that development leads directly to cures -- not research.

West said that if the high tech industry had to rely on CIRM-type funding years ago, laptops and iPads would still be in the lab instead of the marketplace.

The business industry representatives said that creation of CIRM has been beneficial for stem cell  research, but cited a number of deficiencies in connection with industry applications.

In some ways, their comments echoed past remarks by several CIRM board members, who have expressed concern about the lack of funding for industry, as well as those of the agency's own external review panel. One issue raised by those CIRM directors has been the lack of grant reviewers with product development and industry expertise.

At yesterday's hearing, Gabriel Nistor, vice president of research and development at California Stem Cell in Irvine, said, it is "exceedingly rare to find academics (grant reviewers) that understand the complexities" involving industry. Nistor said his firm has applied for a "few" CIRM grants. None have been awarded.

Also speaking was Allan Robins, CEO of Viacyte in San Diego, who said his firm has done well with CIRM funding. It has received $26.2 million, nearly all of it in the form of a loan. But he said companies develop products – not academia.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:14 PM

    CIRM and industry... what a joke!

    Favoritism, cronyism...... I'm sure iPierian has done quite well with the CIRM for some reason!


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