Thursday, October 01, 2015

Fifteen Clinical Trials: Better Marks for California Stem Cell Agency This Year

California's stem cell agency today received higher marks than nearly two years ago when it was last examined by the only state body charged with oversight of the $3 billion research enterprise.

The occasion was a meeting of the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee, chaired by the state controller. One of its members, Jim Lott, in January 2014 had some harsh words for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known.

But after a presentation that showed the agency will be involved in 15 clinical trials by the end of this year, Lott said CIRM had improved its pitch, although most of what he was said was lost in a poor quality audiocast of the meeting.

Jim Lott
The California Stem Cell Report asked him to summarize his views. Lott replied in an email,
"I've always felt that CIRM performs well. They needed to better communicate their achievements to justify the $2 billion the agency has spent thus far.  They needed to make their business case.  They did that today, and it would seem that their new president is the change that occurred to make this and other needed transformational efforts happen."
State Controller Betty Yee, chair of the oversight committee, also seemed satisfied with the agency's progress. Her comments were also largely lost in the audiocast. Her office declined to provide a summary of her views for this item today.

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of CIRM, and other agency executives provided an overview of the agency's progress and changes in its strategic plan, most of which is familiar to readers of the California Stem Cell Report.

Some fresh tidbits from the presentations.

-- The move to the agency's new headquarters in Oakland at the end of November will cost roughly $380,000. The agency is losing its rent-free office space in San Francisco and cannot afford the expensive leases in the city of San Francisco.

-- Randy Mills, president of CIRM since May 2014, has brought a sharp-eyed business approach to the agency, accord to Chairman Thomas. He said the agency "needed a business person" as opposed to an academic as the result of its emphasis on financing clinical trials. Thomas said Mills put "discipline and perspective" of business in place at the agency.

Michael Quick, USC photo
-- Thomas was "delighted" to hear Yee ask what the state could do to help the agency in the future. Thomas said the agency is developing a strategy in which the state could play a "very prominent role." Presumably that would involve more state funding since the agency is expected to run out of funds for new awards in about four years.

The controller's office also announced the addition of a new member to the oversight committee, Michael Quick, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at USC.

As the school's No. 2 executive, he reports to Carmen Puliafito, president of USC and who also sits on the CIRM governing board. USC, which has held a seat on the board since 2004, has received $107 million from CIRM.

The oversight panel is required by state law to examine the agency on an annual basis. The last such session occurred 21 months ago. Asked to explain the delay, Taryn Kinney, a spokeswoman for Yee, said in an email,
"Since her inauguration earlier this year, (the controller) focused on building her staff and strengthening the many core internal functions of the state controller’s office."

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