Tuesday, March 24, 2015

California's Stem Cell Grant Reviewers Set for More Oversight on Research Awards

The California stem cell agency today moved forward on creation of new rules for its research awards, ranging from more fiscal scrutiny to elimination of paperwork.

The aim of the move is to improve the quality of the research and speed development of stem cell therapies by the $3 billion agency.

The Science Subcommittee of the agency’s governing board, as expected, unanimously approved the rules, which are nearly certain to be ratified Thursday by the full board at its meeting in Berkeley.

The proposals are part of CIRM 2.0, a major change at the agency initiated by Randy Mills, who became president of the agency last May. 

In addition to the grant regulations, the subcommittee unanimously approved changes in procedures involving the conduct of the closed-door grant review meetings. 

The grant reviewers, formally known as the Grants Working Group, make the de facto decisions on all applications. The agency’s board has legal authority to accept or reject applications, but has almost never rejected a positive recommendation from its blue-ribbon scientific reviewers.

One change involving the scientific reviewers, all of whom come from out-of-state, calls for them to exercise oversight on the progress of the research and on “continued funding.” The reviewers would report their findings to the full CIRM board or the agency’s president. That would be in addition to CIRM staff monitoring and quarterly reviews by new panels of advisors.

Another change in the review process calls for a patient advocate member of the review group to be more actively involved in the review of applications. One advocate would be asked for his or her views on an application but would not score the application. All of the patient advocate members of the review panel are also members of the agency board.

In addition to the seven members from the agency board, including its chairman, each group of reviewers for a particular award round includes 15 scientists from outside California. They are drawn from a list of more than 100.  Their financial and professional interests are not disclosed to the public. Applicants are not notified which researchers review their applications.

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