Tuesday, August 28, 2012

USC Researchers Appeal Rejection of $20 Million Proposal

Researchers from the University of Southern California are making a pitch to overturn rejection of their $20 million grant application by reviewers in one of the signature commercialization rounds of the California stem cell agency.

The appeal by Roberta Diaz Brinton and Lon Schneider will be taken up one week from tomorrow by the governing board of the $3 billion state enterprise.

The USC application deals with Alzheimer's. It came in the $243 million disease team round that was considered last month during a record-breaking outpouring of appeals and a day of emotion-filled appearances by patients. CIRM directors adjourned their meeting without completing action on a number of items, leaving open the possibility of additional appeals such as the one from USC.

The Brinton-Schneider application received a score of 63 from reviewers. They said in a letter to the board,
“We are submitting the petition at this time as we are new to the CIRM ICOC(governing board) process and after listening to the July 26 ICOC meeting deliberations now understand that the petition process allows the ICOC to further consider our proposal. We noted that the proposal scored one point above ours and another two points below ours, each utilized the extraordinary petition strategy to gain ICOC review which resulted in funding approval in the former, and reconsideration in the latter instance.”
Their statement reinforced a concern expressed by CIRM Director Oswald Steward, director of the Reeve Center at UC Irvine,  at last month's board meeting about fairness in the grant process. He said,
“I'm not really quire sure that all of the applicants clearly understood that they could come back to us to address the criticisms(of reviewers).”
Concerns about whether all applicants fully understand the appeal process have surfaced on a number of occasions over the last several years. The CIRM board, however, is generally reluctant to overturn negative recommendations by reviewers. It also almost never reverses positive recommendations.

Next week the board is scheduled to make unspecified changes in the appeal process. No further details on those changes have yet been released by the agency although the meeting is just four business days away.

In the Brinton-Schneider letter to the CIRM board, the scientists defended their scientific approach and responded to criticism by reviewers, especially those related to sedation. Reviewers expressed reservations about over-sedation, which the researchers said were erroneous.

It is not clear whether other scientists will be making appeals during next week's board meeting.

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