Monday, September 10, 2012

California Stem Cell Firsts: From Emotional Appeals to $40 Million Awards

During the last few months, the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is approaching its eight-year anniversary, has chalked up a number of important firsts.

Most of them came during the July and September meetings of its 29-member governing board and were related to strenuous efforts by researchers to win approval of awards of up to $20 million each. Several firsts involved the agency's former chairman, Robert Klein, who could be considered the father of the state's stem cell research effort.

So here is the California Stem Cell Report's list of firsts at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (as CIRM, the stem cell agency, is formally known) for the summer of 2012.

It was the first time that a single company – in this case, StemCells, Inc. , of Newark, Ca. – received two awards in the same round.

It was the first time any company has been awarded as much as $40 million. Again, StemCells, Inc.

It was the first time that Klein has lobbied his former board (see here and here) on behalf of a particular grant application. That occurred in both July and September with one of StemCells, Inc.'s application.

It was the first time that the board has approved an application that has been rejected twice by reviewers, again the StemCells, Inc., proposal backed by Klein.

It was the first time that board has received such a large outpouring of appeals by rejected applicants.

It was the first time that the board has received such lengthy presentations of emotional appeals by patient advocates on behalf of rejected applicants.

It was the first time that action on a grant round has been extended over three months(see here and here). The disease team round began in July. Action will not be completed until the end of October.

It was the first time that the governing board has sent so many applications back for re-review – five, six if the one to be acted on in October is included.

It was also the first time that the board has ordered a full-blown review of its grant appeal process with an eye to making making major changes in it.

Several reasons exist for the number of firsts racked up by CIRM. One is the high stakes involved in the disease team round that began in July and the low number approved by reviewers – six compared to the 12 approved by the board, as of today, out of 21 applications. Another reason involves the increasing understanding on the part of many scientists that they can appeal directly to the board when reviewers reject their applications. However, it is also clear that not all applicants grasp the full range of appeal possibilities. A third reason involves the agency's muddled appeal process, which has been a problem for years. And a fourth reason involves the board's push to drive research into the clinic and commercialization, which applicants are quickly learning how to exploit.

Readers should feel free to add their own firsts to this list. They can do so – even, anonymously – by clicking on the word “comments” at the end of this item.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:06 AM

    first time CIRM handed out such historical large amount (~ $200 M) exclusively to their conflicts of interest without any scientific merits and two-thirds of a quorum (e.g., at least 20 votes out of 29, > 10 members approval out of 15) required by Prop 71.


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