Thursday, February 21, 2019

California's Stem Cell Agency Smacks Stanford for Failing to Deliver on Financial Promises

The California stem cell agency today delivered an unusual and sharp rebuke to Stanford University, declaring that it needs to stand by its financial commitments to help back state-funded research. 

The message came during consideration of a request for more research cash from a Stanford researcher, Judith Shizuru. She sought $6 million for continuation of a clinical trial to develop a potentially "transformative" product that would eliminate the toxic impact of chemotherapy for a number of diseases. 

"It boggles my mind," said Jeff Sheehy, a member of the agency's governing board and chairman of its Science Committee, that Stanford, which has an endowment of $27 billion, has not stepped forward to provide the co-funding. 

The amount involved is $1.7 million and is due May 1. It is connected to an earlier $19 million award to Shizuru that kicked off her clinical trial. 

Sheehy noted that Stanford and its researchers have received $379 million from the agency since 2005. It is the top recipient of funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known. Stanford also has a member on CIRM's board. 

Steve Juelsgaard, chairman of the board's Finance Committee and a former top executive at Genentech, said that Stanford is "very well taken care of in terms of its economics." 

He said that the agency requires all institutions and businesses to sign agreements to deliver on promises of co-funding. CIRM cannot have two standards for its grantees, Juelsgaard said. 

Today was the first time that the $3 billion research agency has publicly rebuked a grantee on co-funding. Recipients of awards, be they institutions or individual researchers, are generally  treated tenderly in public.  (The full transcript of the meeting is available here.)

CIRM directors did not take issue with the quality of the research, which they described as good. Specifically, today's application sought to advance Shizuru's phase one clinical trial to develop a way to avoid the necessity of chemotherapy in a genetic affliction, popularly known as the bubble baby syndrome.

Nine researchers in the field sent letters to the CIRM board praising the work. Several called it "transformative" and said it could have use in afflictions ranging from blood cancer to diabetes. 

Shizuru applied for $6 million. However, the CIRM board reduced the award to $3.7 million and only on the condition that the previous co-funding be delivered.  

Shizuru told the CIRM board she accepted responsibility for raising the co-funding, which she said has been difficult. Board members noted that agreements on awards are signed by both the recipient researcher and his/her insitution. She said she would discuss today's action with Stanford officials.

Her application came before directors in January with a seal of approval from the agency's reviewers, who make their decisions behind closed doors. Normally, approval by reviewers means a rubber stamp by directors.

Action in January, however, was deferred until this month after directors raised questions about research delays and financial matters. The agency also publicly released a slough of information concerning Shizuru's work, most of which she provided to them.  

Here are links to key documents involving Shizuru application. 
(An early version of this item misspelled Shizuru's last name.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:40 PM

    It appears that CIRM might be growing a spine. The Irv Weissman/Alan Trounsen bromance made Stanford believe that it was entitled to as much CIRM funding as they wanted.


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