Wednesday, August 28, 2013

$41 Million in California Stem Cell Grants Virtually Approved

Directors of the California stem cell agency today all but approved about $41 million in early translational grants, rejecting all appeals by applicants and accepting staff recommendations on marginal grants.

The roll call vote was held open this morning to record a vote by one board member who was not present at the time. It is virtually certain that the member will vote in favor of affirmative action on the applications in question.

One member of the board, Joan Samuelson, abstained from voting on any of the applications. She said she did not think the board had adequate information on its total grant portfolio, particularly in view of the declining amount of money available.

The agency has about $600 million in uncommitted funds and is scheduled to run out of cash for new grants in 2017.

The research acted on today is aimed at “proof of concept for development of a therapy candidate and/or studies to select a development candidate. The approved grants can be found on this CIRM website page and are listed in tier one and tier two.  Identities of the applicants are withheld by CIRM to avoid embarrassing rejected candidates and to avoid disclosing the names of applicants to board members before they vote. However, applicants often appear before the board, as they did today, and identify themselves.

Five applicants appealed negative decisions on their applications by grant reviewers. The agency declined to disclose the appeal letters or identify the applicants, information that was a public record under the previous appeal procedures. New processes were put in place this spring that moved the appeals behind closed doors and made them subject to staff instead of board review. Nonetheless, rejected researchers have a legal right to address the board on appeals or any other matters.

At the request of the California Stem Cell Report, the agency provided the numbers of the grants on which appeals were filed. They are: 06787, 06888, 06761, 06793 and 06830. Review summaries on the applications can be found here. 

We have asked the agency to provide its legal and policy justification for now withholding information that was once a public record.

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