Friday, April 27, 2018

California Hits More Than Half-Billion Dollars in Stem Cell Clinical Trials

The stem call agency has an interactive dashboard on its web site, part of which is seen above.
The California stem cell agency this week boosted the number of its clinical trials to 48 -- representing an investment of $553 million -- with the hope of producing its first widely available stem cell therapy and staving off its own demise.

In a 14-minute, telephonic meeting Thursday, directors of the agency ratified three new awards totalling $32 million and increasing its trials from 45. The applications had been approved earlier behind closed doors by the agency's out-of-state reviewers.

The action left the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), with $224 million in uncommitted funds, CIRM said in response to a query. The agency was provided with $3 billion when it was created in 2004 by California voters. The $224 million figure could rise $278 million with "recovery" from cancelled grants.

Nonetheless, CIRM expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of 2019. It is attempting to raise $220 million privately to tide it over until November 2020, the date when voters may be asked to approved an additional $5 billion in bond funding.

Thursday's brief meeting generated no fresh discussion about the financial future of the agency, which is unique in California history and operates with no oversight by the governor or the legislature. Nor was there any discussion of the applications for research funds. 

CIRM said in a news release this morning that while the agency has backed 48 trials, only 42 are active. It has also funded early stage research in 11 additional projects that moved later into the "clinical trial stage" without additional CIRM support. 

The directors made their award decisions Thursday based on a brief CIRM staff presentation and summaries of the reviews of the applications. 

Links to the summaries, the winners and their awards are below. Go to the summaries by clicking on the application number. Updates on the status of CIRM research can also be found as it progresses by searching on the application number.

Sangamo Therapeutics, Inc., of Richmond, Ca., was awarded $8 million to "test a new therapy (phase one/two) for beta-thalassemia, a severe form of anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells) caused by mutations in the beta hemoglobin gene."

The agency said,
Edward Conner
Sangamo photo
"Patients with this genetic disorder require frequent blood transfusions for survival and have a life expectancy of only 30-50 years."
The company, which announced a secondary stock offering of more than $200 million this week, is providing $15 million in co-financing. Its stock closed at $16.75 on Friday. Its 52-week high is $27.50 and its low $4.25. 

The principal investigator is Edward Conner, chief medical officer of the firm, and the application number is CLIN2-11031

The company said in a news release that the work also involved Bioverativ.

Stanford University researchers received $12.3 million and provided $2.3 million in matching funds for a a phase one trial for a CAR-T therapy for "patients with B cell leukemias who have relapsed or are not responding after standard treatments, such as chemotherapy."

Maria Millan, president of CIRM, said in the news release,
Crystal Mackall
Stanford photo
“When a patient is told that their cancer has returned it can be devastating news. CAR-T cell therapy is an exciting and promising new approach that offers us a way to help patients fight back against a relapse, using their own cells to target and destroy the cancer.”
The principal investigator is Crystal Mackall and the application number is CLIN2-10846

(Here is the link from Stanford on the award. The link was added on April 30 to this item after its initial publication.)

Morton Cowan
UCSF photo
UC San Francisco researchers received $12 million (with no co-funding) for a phase one trial to test a treatment "to restore the defective immune system of children born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a genetic blood disorder in which even a mild infection can be fatal" and which is often known as "the bubble baby disease."

CIRM said it has"funded two other clinical trials targeting different approaches to different forms of SCID. In one, carried out by UCLA and Orchard Therapeutics, 50 children have been treated and all 50 are considered functionally cured."

The principal researcher is Morton Cowan and the application number is CLIN2-10830.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Weighing California's Stem Cell Trials: An Update from the Golden State's Stem Cell Agency

A sample from the latest information from CIRM on its clinical trial investments. 

California's $3 billion stem cell agency has posted a fresh overview of the 45 clinical trials that it has invested in, ranging from spinal injuries to kidney transplants.

The update is part of the agency's push to better inform the public as well its governing board of the scope and status of its 13-year-old efforts. The clinical trials carry special weight as the agency faces its demise unless it is successful in raising $220 million privately and winning voter approval of a proposed $5 billion bond issue in November 2020.

The Oakland-based agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of 2019. Its only funding has been the $3 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2004. The ballot initiative provided no additional source of financing to carry it into the future.

Clinical trials are critical for the agency as it approaches the date when it must ask for more billions. They are the last stage before a therapy is approved for widespread use by the federal government. But even then, a trial can take years. And nine out of 10 proposed, "normal" -- non stem cell -- therapies fail during the clinical trial process, according to studies.  Stem cell trials are so new that their failure rates has not been fully examined.

CIRM is hoping for results in the next year or so that will resonate with voters and lead them to approve additional funding.

The five-page, clinical trial overview sorts the trial information by disease, dollar amount, benefit and date among other things. (See sample of the layout above.) The agency also has additional useful information on its trials on what it calls its clinical trials dashboard, an interactive web page that allows readers to slice and dice the information.

The fresh document on the trials was released as part of the agenda for tomorrow's CIRM meeting during which its governing board is expected to approve $32 million for three additional trials. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Stem Cell 'Hotbed:' A CIRM Roadshow in Riverside

California's $3 billion stem cell agency took its message of hope for possible therapies to Riverside this week, part of its continuing outreach program that is increasingly taking on additional importance.

Why? Because the agency is scheduled to run out of cash for new awards by the end of next year. It is hoping to raise $220 million to stave off its demise until November 2020 when the plan is to ask state voters to approve an additional $5 billion in funding.

Writing on the agency's blog, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for the agency, was enthusiastic. His headline said, 
"A road trip to the Inland Empire highlights a hot bed of stem cell research"
McCormack wrote,
"It was a packed event, with an overflow group watching on monitors outside the auditorium. The questions asked afterwards didn’t just focus on the research being done, but on research that still needs to be done.
"One patient advocate couple asked about clinics offering stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease, wondering if the therapies were worth spending more than $10,000 on....
"The visit was a strong reminder that there is exciting stem cell research taking place all over California and that the Inland Empire is a key player in that research, working on projects that could one day have a huge impact in changing people’s lives, even saving people’s lives."
The stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), is not exactly a household word among most Californians. Events such as the one in Riverside help to spread the word about its activities to voters who might be considering another funding initiative for the agency. However, these type of CIRM events rarely generate news coverage that can amplify their reach. 

The Riverside event was a case in point. A UC Riverside press release earlier this month led to a four-paragraph item in the Riverside Press Enterprise announcing that the event was upcoming. But no news story has yet emerged from the actual event itself. Indeed, the only news story in the newspaper this month about the benefits of stem cell research involved the Vatican, a Riverside girl and, indirectly, a company, Caladrius Biosciences (formerly Neostem) that was awarded $11.6 million from CIRM. The agency, however, was not mentioned.

Tomorrow, another CIRM event will be held at UCLA to highlight the agency's  $50 million, Alpha Clinic program that brings resources together to focus intensely on stem cell therapies and patient treatment.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fleshing Out the Details: Inside the California Stem Cell Agency's Fledgling Industry Partnership Program

 California's $3 billion stem cell agency has released details on just what is involved in its new collaboration with industry, giving select companies "direct access" to the hundreds of millions of dollars in research that the state has financed. 

The effort involves creation of "robust data rooms," nondisclosure agreements and licensing templates, among other things, and owes a debt to the agency's moribund, $150 million public-private partnership proposal (ATP3).  The new program is aimed at speeding development of stem cell therapies as the agency faces its possible demise in the next couple of years. 

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, has dubbed the collaboration as the Industry Alliance Program (IAP). It  already has two partners from the private sector, BlueRock Therapeutics of Cambridge, Mass., and Vivo Capital of Palo Alto, and the agency is looking for more. 

Q & A: Data Rooms and More

Neil Littman, CIRM photo
CIRM disclosed more information about the program in response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report (CSCR). Here is the agency's reply from Neil Littman, CIRM's business development officer. It includes a response to a comment filed last week on the original article by an anonymous reader concerning access to research.

CSCR: "What does 'direct access' to CIRM’s growing stem cell portfolio' mean? Will grantees be asked to share their results with these companies....or will CIRM just give out grantees' proprietary information to these companies?"

Littman:  "CIRM will never share proprietary information without the consent of the awardee and the awardee’s institution. In addition, in order to access non-public information, IAP partners (just like everyone else) will need to execute a confidentiality agreement with the awardee’s institution. 'Direct access' implies CIRM’s role in helping IAP partners navigate CIRM’s large and growing portfolio and facilitating introductions when it is mutually agreed upon by the awardee and IAP partner."

CSCR: "It would be useful to discuss with more specificity this language from the IAP agreements: "...diligence process through template legal agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements and licensing templates, and robust data rooms."

Littman: "What does CIRM mean by diligence process? The term due diligence refers to the process of how a company evaluates technology before making an investment. This is often a lengthy review process where the company evaluates items such as preclinical clinical and clinical data, CMC information, and regulatory correspondence. CIRM will help streamline this process by working with the awardee and awardee’s institution to gather all the information in one place for the collaborator to review (this is commonly referred to as a 'data room').

"Why are template agreements useful to collaborators? The template legal agreements provide standardized language which help save time for both the collaborator and the awardee institution. Many features of the agreements will still need to be negotiated, such as the economics of a specific deal, but the templates serve as a starting point."

Son of ATP3

CSCR: These arrangements appear to be descended from CIRM's ATP3 proposal. How did the partnership program emerge? How did those two companies come to be the first to be involved? 

Littman: "Yes, the IAP is descended from ATP3 and is meant to achieve the same goal: increasing the pull from industry in order to increase the number of partnerships. BlueRock and Vivo Capital were selected for a variety of reasons, including: 1) Demonstrated commitment to advancing stem cell treatments to patients (i.e. they have already made investments in the space) 2) Continued commitment to investing in stem cell programs in the future, 3) They are well capitalized with the ability to invest in CIRM-funded programs."

Text of IAP Agreement

Here is the text of the signed agreement with BlueRock, which was requested by the California Stem Cell Report. The agreement with Vivo is identical.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

California's $3 Billion Stem Cell Program Partners with BlueRock and Vivo Capital, Looks for More Industry Collaborators

California's drive to produce a stem cell therapy is ratcheting up a notch with announcement of  two new, global industry partners along with a plan to engage more companies and give them "direct access" to hundreds of millions of dollars in state-funded research.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the $3 billion state stem cell agency is formally known, said the program represents an opportunity "to bring the most promising stem cell, gene therapy and regenerative medicine programs to market where they can help people with unmet medical needs."

The first two participants are BlueRock Therapeutics of  Cambridge, Ma., with offices in Toronto and New York City, and  Vivo Capital of  Palo Alto, Ca., which has offices in Bejing, Shanghai and Tapei. BlueRock was founded in 2016 with $225 million in backing from Versant Ventures and Bayer AG. Vivo has more than $1.7 billion under management, according to the firm's web site.

In addition to venture capital firms, the agency said its Industry Alliance Program (IAP) is looking for pharmaceutical and biotech partners to give them "direct access to CIRM’s growing stem cell portfolio."

Maria Millan, CEO and president of CIRM, said in a news release,
Maria Millan
"The goal of the IAP is to secure industry partnerships and funding for CIRM’s translational and clinical-stage projects. Our agency provides researchers the initial funding to advance promising projects towards the clinic. Now, we’re going a step further by offering a program that facilitates connections between industry partners and our grantees. These companies can offer the support or additional funding needed to give these promising projects the best chance for success and the best chance of helping patients.”
The stem cell agency is nearing its final days and is looking to fulfill promises to California voters who created it 13 years ago through a ballot initiative. The measure provided $3 billion in state bond funding, but no more. The campaign also generated expectations that stem cell cures were just around the corner. The agency has yet to back a therapy that is widely available.

The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of next year. A $220 million private fundraising effort is being waged to help the agency along until November 2020. That's when CIRM backers hope that the agency's efforts will excite California voters enough for them to approve $5 billion more in funding via another citizen-based initiative.

Deeper involvement with industry is one way to produce quicker results. Venture capital firms are willing to move fast and bet big on research that they deem likely to produce handsome profits.

BlueRock focuses on cell therapies that target severe brain and heart conditions.  According to Biospace, the company expects its most advanced lead therapeutic, a compound for Parkinson’s disease, to begin clinical trials this year.

Vivo focuses on high quality companies in the United States and China but includes building companies from scratch. 

California also brings something to the game.  Karen Ring, the agency's Internet majordomo, noted last week on the agency's blog,
"CIRM is the world’s largest stem cell research funding institution dedicated to helping patients by accelerating the development of quality stem cell treatments. We’re currently funding 244 active stem cell research programs including 39 ongoing clinical trials."
Neil Litman, the agency's director of business development, said CIRM has a "unique vantage point" because of its broad scope. He said the new program is "essentially a built-in concierge service for the stem cell space."

Friday, April 06, 2018

Media Coverage of Stem Cell Therapy for Blindness Loses Sight of California's $36 Million in Support

Dennis Clegg of UC Santa Barbara, one of the leaders in developing a new stem cell treatment for AMD, speaks broadly about the approach in this 2016 video.

The news this week was good for the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is facing its possible demise in less than two years.

The stories demonstrated what the CEO of the agency, Maria Millan, calls the "value proposition" of the agency's work for the people of California. But only if the agency is mentioned in the news coverage.

Public perceptions are no small matter for supporters of the research agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  They wonder as does Millan: How does the agency get real and robust credit for its work, a likely life-or-death question given the agency's hopes to win voter approval of $5 billion more in funding in 2020?

CIRM says it is on track to run out of cash for new awards by the end of 2019 unless its ambitious fundraising plans are successful. And those are only a partial solution until billions more are provided by California citizens.

This week's "good news" stories generated national attention, albeit relatively modest, about CIRM-funded research that has led to to the first-in-human clinical trial for dry, age-related macular degeneration. The treatment uses technology that was described as "very exciting" by one researcher not connected with trial.

The headline on the New Scientist story on Wednesday said,
"Eye implant improves vision in people with age-related blindness"
Reporter Andy Coghlan wrote, 
"A patch implanted at the back of the eye has improved or stabilised sight in four people with severe age-related macular degeneration. The treatment enabled one 69-year-old woman to read 24 letters on a standard eye chart, when she could previously manage only seven.
"The patch is made of eye cells made from human embryonic stem cells, and it has been designed for treating the 'dry' form of macular degeneration, which accounts for 90 per cent of all cases, and affects 1.7 million people in the US."
Nowhere in the New Scientist story was it mentioned, however, that the state of California, through its stem cell agency, has pumped $36 million into the work. 

Likewise for the Los Angeles Times, whose story also did not mention the agency.  And likewise for articles on MIT ReviewMedicalXpress, HealthDay, WebMD, US News and World Report, Futurism and FierceBiotech. The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Even the press release from Regenerative Patch Technologies LLC of Portola Valley, Ca., which holds the exclusive license for the implant, buried the Golden State's contribution in the next-to-last paragraph of a nine-paragraph press release.   Plus the company failed to note that the funding was a not insignificant $36 million.

FierceBiotech did mention some private money that was involved in other AMD research, but ignored California's cash.

Readers not familiar with the traditions surrounding news stories about medical research might wonder why the California support received almost no attention. Generally speaking, the amount of cash and the funding source are all but ignored in such stories with some notable exceptions. How that has come about is not clear, but money talks in most circles. The scientist who has lost his or her appointment by failing to bring in sufficient grants can speak to that.

For the California stem cell agency, it is also likely to be a matter of survival. If it fails to receive the widespread public credit for what it believes is a strong and important body of work, it is likely to wither away in very short order. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

$30 Million Cash Infusion for San Diego Firm, On Top of $20 Million from California Stem Cell Agency

A recent recipient of nearly $20 million from the California stem cell agency is on a financial roll this week as it pursues its efforts to translate what it says are "best-in-class gene therapy technologies into lifesaving cell therapies."

The firm is Poseida Therapeutics, Inc., of San Diego. Last October, it was awarded $19.8 million by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known.

Poseida said yesterday it has hauled in $30.5 million more. The firm said in a news release that the cash will go to "advance a pipeline of autologous and allogeneic CAR-T immunotherapies, as well as gene therapies, using Poseida’s suite of gene engineering technologies."

The firm said its CIRM-backed "P-BCMA-101(product) is a CAR-T therapy currently in Phase 1 clinical development for relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma, with initial clinical data accepted for presentation at the upcoming AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Annual Meeting." The firm is also tackling prostate cancer.

Jack Murtha of Health Care Analytics News wrote,
"It’s a good day for Poseida Therapeutics, one of the trailblazing precision medicine ventures that aims to transform cancer treatment through cutting-edge gene-editing technologies. But just how good of a day is it? Try $30.5 million good."
Murtha said the company has now raised more than $80 million for its endeavors, including the CIRM award, venture capital of $11.2 million last August and $23 million in 2015. The bulk of today's funding came from Longitude Capital of Menlo Park.

At the time of the CIRM award last fall, Maria Millan, president of CIRM, described the nature of the problem that Poseida was addressing, 
“Multiple myeloma disproportionately affects people over the age of 65 and African Americans, and it leads to progressive bone destruction, severe anemia, infectious complications and kidney and heart damage from abnormal proteins produced by the malignant plasma cells. Less than half of patients with multiple myeloma live beyond 5 years.”
Last fall, CIRM reviewers, meeting behind closed doors, unanimously approved, 10-0, Poseida Therapeutics application (CLIN2-10395), which included Poseida's commitment to provide $8.6 million in co-funding. The agency's governing board later ratified the decision with no discussion.

A public, CIRM-prepared summary of the reviewers' comments said, 
"Reviewers thought that the proposed product has the potential to provide a very high rate of durable response in myeloma patients. There is strong scientific and clinical rationale for targeting BCMA on myeloma cells. Reviewers thought that the proposed improvements to the CAR T cell platform technology are highly innovative and could enhance the efficacy and durability of the treatment. Reviewers unanimously recommended the application for funding."

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Job Openings at California's Stem Cell Agency

The California stem cell agency, which is set to basically expire in less than two years, is looking for a few good folks to continue to help it out.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, has posted openings for an associate director of marketing communications and interns in the communications and human resources areas.

The associate director's responsibilities include oversight of the agency's Web site plus additional task. The person will replace Karen Ring, who is leaving to join Weber Shandwick, a major public relations firm. Here is the job information for for the marketing position.

The internships are unpaid and part-time. Here are links to the CIRM information on those openings: Communications,which also includes Web work, and human resources.

Currently the Oakland-based agency has a little more than 50 employees. It predicts it will run out of cash for new awards by the end of 2019 unless ambitious private fund-raising plans are successful.

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