Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Where California's Stem Cell Spending is Going: Less Than a Half-Billion Left

Breakdown of projected spending by the California stem cell agency
CIRM graphic
California's stem cell research effort appears to be down to its last $468 million after nearly 10 years and 630 awards to scientists and their institutions.

Nearly half-a-billion dollars sounds like a lot, but when grant rounds hit $70 million, as is expected in the Alpha stem cell clinic round later this summer, the money vanishes quickly.

A caveat does exist on the $468 million figure. It does not include $409 million for award rounds approved only in concept by the stem cell agency's governing board. The agency has not yet solicited applications for those rounds. Its governing board, at any time, could cancel those proposed rounds.

In 2004, the agency started with $3 billion but really did not get rolling until 2007. Funds for new awards are scheduled to run out sometime in 2017. The agency has been working on plans for future financing, which may be discussed at Thursday's governing board meeting in San Diego. At least the agenda contains an item called “finance update.”

The latest figures on the agency's research spending are contained in a presentation for the meeting by Patricia Olson, executive director of scientific activities and one of the veterans of the agency.

Under current funding plans, the presentation shows that 38 percent of the agency's research funding will go for “development and clinical trials” compared to 15 percent for basic research. Development and clinical trials is defined as “preparation for and conduct of clinical testing of stem cell-based therapeutic candidates, safety and proof- of–concept in humans” and “infrastructure for clinical applications of cell therapies.”

Readers should be aware of some additional caveats on the charts in the presentation. They show $1.869 billion awarded by the agency. However, the CIRM Web site shows $1.784 billion awarded, an $85 million difference.

A presentation chart labeled “future funding” shows $467.9 million potentially available, meaning that no RFAs have been issued in those areas. But another chart apparently based on board decisions last December and called 'future funding approved” shows the same figures plus additional sums for a total of $664.8 million. We are querying the agency concerning the figures.

A separate question late last week generated another perspective on research spending in relation to administrative and other costs. Kevin McCormack, senior director for public communications, replied in an email that the agency is expected to spend $2.746 billion for research and facilities (buildings and laboratories) during its current projected lifetime. He said $180 million is allotted for operational and grant administration expenses. Legal expenses are expected to run at $26.9 million with $12.5 million having been spent through April of this year.

By law, the agency can spend only 6 percent of the amount of the awards for administrative expenses. Legal costs have no cap.

Another $47.1 million has been budgeted for “capitalized interest,” although total interest costs are expected to be in the neighborhood of $3 billion or so. That will be paid by through the state budget. The agency operates on money borrowed by the state (bonds). The interest costs are associated with the bonds.  

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I actually count $876.5 million to spare if you include the "concept approved" with the unallocated. That could be plenty to achieve some success in a patient, if the agency would just stop spending until the new president offers his strategic vision.


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