Thursday, May 24, 2012

'Sun Never Sets on CIRM' – California Agency Awards $69 Million to Researchers

The California stem cell agency today awarded $69 million in grants, including the first involving a collaboration with researchers in China, but none of the awards went to California biotech businesses.

The awards were made in the agency's third translational round, which funds projects that are in the initial stage of identifying drugs or cell types that could become drug therapies.

CIRM originally allocated $95 million for the round, but CIRM spokesman Kevin McCormack said that grant reviewers determined that no applications beyond $69 million were worthy of funding.

The CIRM governing board overturned a negative reviewer decision on one grant after the scientist – W. Douglas Boyd of UC Davis -- filed an appeal. The appeals of two other researchers, including one from a San Diego business, were not successful (see here and here).

CIRM did not disclose the number of applications from businesses. The agency has been sharply criticized for failing to fund businesses in a substantial way.

The approved grants involve collaboration with researchers in Australia and Germany as well as China. The collaborations are based on agreements worked out earlier by CIRM with overseas groups, which fund their own countries' researchers. No CIRM cash is involved, according to the agency.

CIRM President Alan Trounson, a native of Australia and researcher there until joining the stem cell agency, said in a press release,
"The sun now never sets on the CIRM collaborative projects..."
The news release also said,
 "The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has committed roughly $850,000 in collaboration with a team at UCSF to study liver failure. This is the stem cell agency’s first joint effort with scientists in China, which is home to a fast-growing stem cell research community."
The UCSF liver team is led by Holger Willenbring, whose goal is "to develop a source of autologous therapeutic cells for patients with liver disease who otherwise would require a liver transplant," according to the CIRM review summary. The agency did not spell out the details of how the collaboration would work.

All of the winning applicants, with the exception of a Salk researcher, work for institutions linked to at least one of the 29-members of the CIRM governing board. CIRM directors, however, are barred from voting or even discussing applications in which CIRM attorneys have determined there is a conflict of interest.

You can find the names of all the successful applicants in the CIRM news release.    

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