Friday, December 12, 2014

San Francisco Business Times: CIRM 2.0 is 'Business-Friendly,' 'All-Out Charge' for Stem Cell Cures

Official approval yesterday of the California stem cell agency’s new, $50 million fast-track research effort has generated a lengthy piece in the San Francisco Business Times, a weekly newspaper that circulates widely in an area known for its biotech enterprises.

Ron Leuty authored the article, which could be considered an anniversary overview of the agency as much as anything else. The springboard was the CIRM board action yesterday on CIRM 2.0. Kathy Robertson of the Sacramento Business Journal also had a piece albeit briefer.

Leuty described the plan as “business friendly” and critical to the agency’s future if it is to secure funding beyond 2020.  He wrote,  
“CIRM leaders always stressed that the road from research to the clinic would is unavoidably long and winding. But now, as they talk of seeking another round of cash — possibly asking taxpayers for $5 billion to make its mission permanent — they realize that a high-profile medical victory in the next 24 months may be the only realistic way to make their case.”
Leuty said that Randy Mills, who has served as president of CIRM only since May, “is leading an all-out charge to make the agency more responsive with its remaining six years of cash — and to show the results that could convince others that CIRM must continue to be a long-term stem cell research player.”

Leuty continued,
“Plans for a warp-speed CIRM is not without its critics. 
“Some researchers think the agency should be investing more in basic stem-cell research that may provide the progress that could give private investors confidence. They include people like Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem cell program at the University of California, San Francisco.
 "'A modest investment in basic science will pay greater dividends,’ Kriegstein said.
 "A speed-focused CIRM may also not be best for taxpayers, said John Simpson, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog and a frequent CIRM critic.
 "’I understand that they want to be more efficient,’ Simpson said. ‘I question whether they can do it with the necessary and thorough vetting of proposals.’" 
Leuty also had this from Kriegstein: 
"Even in pharma, with all the experience and depth, the likelihood of success is relatively small. The stem cell pathway is less certain. There's bound to be more risk." 
The California Stem Cell Report would like to note that the California stem cell community has been all but silent on the Mills’ CIRM 2.0 plan. The agency has had four hearings on the matter since September. The number of persons from the research community commenting at those sessions has numbered less than 10, perhaps less than five. Kriegstein was not on the scene nor was Simpson.

We should also note that researchers, with a few notable exceptions, have rarely appeared before the the CIRM board over the last 10 years as it has set its priorities and established the rules for the funding that have had a major impact already on hundreds of California scientists.

The California stem cell agency offers a valuable opportunity for researchers to influence decision-making and priorities. They should take advantage of it. Coming before the board after the fact and complaining about this or that flaw in CIRM processes is far too late.

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