Friday, December 05, 2014

California Stem Cell Speed-Up: $50 Million for New, Rapid-Action Program

The mystery at the $3 billion California stem cell agency has cleared up.

The agency yesterday posted a document that provided some details on just what is to be considered next week by the agency’s board of directors, and it is very big stuff -- $50 million worth.

It involves what the agency’s new president, Randy Mills, calls CIRM 2.0 and is intended to speed considerably the agency’s work on research that is closer to reaching the public. (The agency is commonly referred to as CIRM after its official name. the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.)

The information on the new effort came only one business day prior to scheduled action on the plan by the directors’ Scientific Subcommittee, which meets Monday. The proposal is expected to win approval at the board’s full meeting next Thursday in Berkeley.

Mills’ plan calls for spending $50 million between now and next July on grant applications that will be received every month, instead of sporadically as in the past.  The objective of the program is to create "a more streamlined process for awarding and administering grants that will include frequent and predictable submission opportunities followed by rapid review, quick funding decisions, streamlined contracting and the prompt initiation of research."

Applicants can ask for as much money as they want. No caps are being set in advance, but the research budgets will be thoroughly analyzed prior to review. Indirect costs will be limited, however, to only 10 percent of the award. That is a major reduction.  Kevin McCormack, a spokesman for CIRM, said last year that a 20 percent cap exists on indirect costs on awards. Grants also provide for “facilities” costs at an additional percentage that can be much higher than the 20 percent.  The rate varies from institution to institution.  

Matching funds will be required by both business and nonprofit applicants in some cases in the three-stage program. Business applicants will have to show that they have six months of “cash on hand” from the date of the application submission. 

Applications will be due on the last business day of each month, presumably beginning Wednesday Dec. 31. The CIRM board would act on the award about 90 days following submission. Work must begin within 45 days of approval of awards by the full board, about 130 days after submission of the application, according to Mills' memo to the CIRM board. 

Mills’ plan also calls for a major change in appeals of negative reviews, saying they would be limited to “demonstrable conflicts of interest” as defined by CIRM’s existing policies. Mills’ memo said the change was being made because of “the open opportunity to apply and amend  rejected applications.”

Mills has said successful applicants will be strongly guided by CIRM. Unsuccessful applicants will be coached by CIRM on how to alter their proposals if the agency feels their plans have strong potential.

Parties interested in commenting on the plan or suggesting changes can send their remarks to the directors by emailing them to They can also participate in Monday’s 90-minute meeting at teleconference locations in San Francisco, Duarte, Los Angeles, Irvine, La Jolla and Oakland. Addresses can be found on the meeting agenda, but specific room numbers are not given. Those can be obtained by calling CIRM at 415-396-9100 or email to

The California Stem Cell Report will have more on this and other CIRM 2.0 changes prior to next Thursday’s meeting.

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