Monday, October 08, 2018

The Final $144 Million and the California Stem Cell Agency's Future

The Golden State's stem cell research program is down to its last $144 million after nearly 14 years of financing searches for therapies for everything ranging from diabetes to bubble baby syndrome. 

Funded with $3 billion in November 2004, California's stem cell agency has yet to back a therapy that is widely available to the public. Its directors are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to approve plans for what could be the last year for new awards. 


Known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency was created by voters through a ballot initiative. The measure provided $3 billion in bond support but no additional cash beyond that. 


The agency is pinning its hopes for survival on a yet-to-be-written $5 billion bond measure for the November 2020. It is attempting privately to raise $200 million to bridge the gap between the end of 2019 and the election. 


On Thursday, CIRM's 2019 research award budget is slated to come before the Science Committee of its board of directors. The public can participate in the meeting via the Internet and at a number of locations throughout the state. More information about access can be found on the agenda. 


The agency's staff has proposed $123 million in awards for clinical trials during 2019 with another $20 million going for translational research, which is an effort to take basic research and translate it into a clinical application. An additional $600,000 is slated for "educational" awards. 

CIRM documents said there were "insufficient" funds to finance additional basic research. The agency also aims to limit its clinical/translational awards to research that has been previously backed by the agency.


By the end of this year, CIRM expects to have made $2.6 billion in awards. The remainder of the $3 billion has gone or will have gone for administrative expenses, which will continue for a few years as multi-year awards wind down. 


The agency may recover an estimated $30 million in 2019 from research that does not pan out, making those possible funds available for awards in 2020. 


Currently, CIRM is backing 49 clinical trials, the last stage before a therapy is certified for widespread use. But there is no guarantee that any of those trials will generate a treatment prior to the November 2020 election. 

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