The move came last Thursday when directors of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency approved seeking additional Alpha Clinic applications this spring. The purpose of the clinics is to accelerate development of stem cell therapies, a key goal of Proposition 71, the ballot measure that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM as the Oakland-based program is known.
Expansion of the program could also mean that an Alpha site may be located somewhere in Northern California by the end of this year. One of the objectives of the latest proposal is to broaden the "geographic reach" of the Alpha network.
According to CIRM, the existing Alpha clinics already have 33 clinical trials underway for 12 different afflictions. Randy Mills, president of the agency, said in an interview Friday with the California Stem Cell Report that the clinics doubled the number of stem cell trials that they had prior to launching their CIRM Alpha programs. Many of those trials do not require agency funding, which allows the cash to be used elsewhere.
Maria Millan, CIRM's vice president for therapeutics, told CIRM directors last week,
"Once we built it, they did come."The latest expansion is aimed at increasing capacity and access to stem cell trials, training physician/scientists in clinical trials and bringing additional assets to California's Alpha clinic network, which is also positioned to help establish the state as the global leader in stem cell treatment.
The request for applications, with a deadline of May 15, will also require that the clinics -- whether non-profit or for-profit -- create a "sustainability plan," which will keep them operating after the CIRM funding terminates in four years. The agency itself expects to run out of cash for any new awards even sooner -- June 2020.
CIRM is offering to provide two winners in the Alpha round $8 million each over a four-year period with milestones required to keep the cash flowing.
During Friday's interview, Mills said that applicants from Northern California will need to make a case for the "added value" that they will bring to their proposals and demonstrate that their populations are underserved. Additional applications are likely to come in from Southern California, which has the bulk of the state's population and patients.
The current Alpha Clinics are located at the City of Hope in Duarte, which is in the Los Angeles area, UC San Diego and UCLA/UC Irvine.
A symposium on Alpha Clinics is scheduled for March 23 at the City of Hope. Advance registration is requested.