Thursday, March 13, 2014

California Approves $72 Million for Stem Cell Commercialization

Directors of the California stem cell agency today approved $72 million to help drive stem cell research into the clinic and commercialization, despite concerns that it would damage the agency's ability to hire a new president.

The total for two concept proposals will consume roughly 14 percent of the agency's remaining cash, leaving only $402 million for future awards.

Director Jeff Sheehy said that the agency is going through money at an "alarming pace" and that approval of the plans would limit the agency's future ability to take advantage of research opportunities. He said the board was basically telling presidential candidates that we want "to hire you to manage the last embers of a dying fire."

The agency is scheduled to run out of cash in 2017.

Other directors were concerned about losing the agency's research momentum. Some said businesses could not wait many months or a year to gain funding.

A motion to delay a decision was rejected on a 7-12 vote. Directors then approved one of the two concept proposals, a $32 million program, on a 14-3 vote with two abstentions.

The proposal will provide up to $32 million for possibly three awards in the agency's business-friendly strategic partnership program ranging from $10 million to $12 million. The objective would be completion of a phase one or phase two clinical trial within three years. Matching funding would be required. Both businesses and non-profits would be eligible with forgivable loans a possibility for businesses.

The largest new proposal will provide up to $40 million for four or five preclinical development awards and was approved on a 19-0 vote. It is aimed both at development activities prior to a phase one clinical trial and at helping to attract future funding. Businesses and non-profits would eligible with businesses possibly taking a forgivable loan.

The posting of a request for applications is scheduled for April and May. Board action on applications would come early next year.

(Editor's note: This item has been revised from an earlier version to reflect action on both proposals and to add new figures on the amount of cash remaining for CIRM.)

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