Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fast-Track Stem Cell Grants and Big Boost in California Stem Cell Agency Budget

Directors of the California stem cell agency will meet May 21 to make their first award under the agency's new, fast-track grant program and to approve an $18.7 million operational budget, up $2.8 million from this year's estimated spending.

The award will come in Randy Mills' CIRM 2.0 program as he begins his second year as president of the $3 billion state research effort. He initiated the program with intention of dramatically speeding cash to researchers.

The agenda for the directors' meeting in Berkeley does not specify how many awards are likely to be considered, but the number is expected to be very small. More details are likely to be posted on the agenda prior to the meeting.

Mills plans to extend the CIRM 2.0 speed-up to all of CIRM's award cycles, including basic research.

Also expected to be approved is the operational  budget proposed by Mills for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The spending plan is up substantially from actual spending for the current fiscal year largely because of increases in personnel costs. Mills expects to fill a number of high-level slots in the organization that will help boost employee costs from $11.3 million this year to $12.7 million. The agency is expected to be $815,000 under budget for employee expenses for the current fiscal year because positions were not filled.

Mills also plans to update the agency's strategic plan during the next few months. A discussion of that effort is on the meeting agenda. Such matters as spending on basic research vs. clinical funding are the sort of topic for strategic planning. A few years ago, a shift away from basic research triggered some public concerns among researchers, who said the field was too young to push heavily on the more costly clinical funding.

The agency has committed $1.9 billion so far and estimates it will run out of cash in 2020 for new awards.

No plans for public input concerning the strategic plan have been announced, but they have been a component of previous efforts.

Directors are additionally expected to hear a report on a "performance audit" of the agency. The agency commissioned the $230,000 audit, which is required by state law. The last such audit in 2013 made 27 recommendations for improvements at the agency. An evaluation of the agency´s scientific portfolio was specifically not included in the audit.

Look for more details on matters to be considered by the agency on the California Stem Cell Report over the next 10 days as more information becomes available.

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