Thursday, February 23, 2017

Diabetes to Arthritis: California Awards $33 Million for Clinical Stage Stem Cell Work

The California stem cell agency today approved nearly $33 million for clinical stage research projects testing treatments for type 1 diabetes, arthritis of the knee, ALS and an immunodeficiency affliction.

The awards were quickly approved with little discussion during a meeting at the Oakland headquarters of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM, as the agency is formally known.

The award likely to have an impact on the most people -- if it is successful -- is a relatively small, $2.3 million award to the Cellular Biomedicine Group,  a Chinese firm with operations in Cupertino, Calif. The stem cell agency by law only finances work in California. The research would also be supported by $572,993 in co-funding.

The project is aimed at treating osteoarthritis of the knee. More than 51 million people in the United States suffer from arthritis, which is particularly common in the knee.

The goal of the research is to regenerate knee cartilage through the use of a mesenchymal progenitor cell treatment, according to the agency's application review summary. The funding would go to manufacture the product and complete work to secure Food and Drug Administration approval for a phase one safety trial. A treatment for the public would likely be years in the future.

Here are the other winners today of California stem cell cash with links to the summaries of the reviews.

Caladrius Biosciences of New Jersey won $12.2 million for a clinical trial for young people ages 12-17 for newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. The firm plans to use regulatory T cells from the patients themselves to treat the disease. Caladrius has a California location in Mountain View. (Caladrius' press release can be found here.)

St. Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., was awarded $11.9 million for a phase one/two trial to treat infants with X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency. The trial would aim at enrolling at least six patients suffering from the catastrophic affliction. The treatment would use the patients own bone marrow stem cells after the cells were specially handled. The agency said in a press release that St. Jude's is working with UC San Francisco. (St. Jude's press release can be found here.)

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles was awarded $6.2 million for a phase 1/2A trial to test a treatment for ALS, which has no treatment or cure. The CIRM review summary said a "huge unmet need" existed. About 20,000 persons in the United States suffer from the affliction.

CIRM's press release did not identify the researchers involved in any of the awards.

The agency is on a push to support more clinical trials, which are the last and most expensive research prior to the possibility of winning federal approval for widespread use of a therapy.

Currently the agency is participating in 27 trials and is planning on adding 37 more in the next 40 months. The agency is expected to run out of funds for new awards in June 2020 and has no source of future financing.

The awards were previously approved behind closed doors by the agency's out-of-state reviewers, who do not disclose publicly their economic or professional interests. The agency's directors rarely overturn a positive decision by the reviewers.

All of the winners have links to two or more members of the 29-member CIRM governing board. Those members are not allowed to vote on applications where they have conflicts of interest.
About 90 percent of the funds awarded by the board since 2005 have gone to institutions that have ties to members of the board, past or present, according to calculations by the California Stem Cell Report.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said the total amount of awards was $37 million.)

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