Thursday, March 21, 2019

Down to its Last $67 Million: California Stem Cell Agency Awards $4 Million to Improve Bone Healing

A look at the the spinal affliction targeted by CIRM-backed research. Video by NuVasiveInc

OAKLAND, Ca. -- California's state stem cell agency is down to its last $67.3 million following a decision today to back research to enhance bone healing in elderly patients who undergo spinal surgery.

The $4 million award went to Ankasa Regenerative  Therapeutics following little discussion among members of the governing board of the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM, as the stem cell agency is known. 

Ankasa, which has locations in La Jolla and South San Francisco, is supporting the award with a matching amount of $1 million. Sandy Madigan, CEO of Ankasa, told the California Stem Cell Report that his firm has raised $19 million in venture capital. Its only current potential product, he said, is tied to the CIRM-backed research, which the agency has previously funded with $8.6 million. 

(See here and here for more on the Ankasa work.)

CIRM said at today's meeting that the award leaves the agency with $67.3 million for research for the remainder of the year. It has budgeted a total of $93 million for clinical stage awards this year.

The stem cell agency was created in 2004 with $3 billion in funding. It expects to run out of cash for new awards later this year. CIRM is seeking to raise $220 million privately to tide it over until November 2020, when it hopes voters will approve another $5 billion in funding through the use of state bonds. 

CIRM board Chairman Jonathan Thomas did not report at the meeting today on the status of the private fundraising effort. 

The only significant source of cash for the agency is the $3 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2004 via the ballot initiative process. The 2020 effort would also involve a ballot initiative. 

The deadline for filing such a measure is Aug. 19. That would set the stage for actually gathering the 585,407 valid  signatures needed to qualify for placement on the ballot. 

Today's award was approved Feb. 28 behind closed doors by the agency's out-of-state reviewers, who sent it to the CIRM board for routine ratification. 

The six-page, CIRM summary of the review said the proposal (CLIN1-11256) addresses "the need for a spinal fusion material that can increase the chance for a solid bony union in the lumbar spine." The review said, "There are other products on the market that fulfill this need but have safety concerns that have been raised in the past."

Jill Helms, chief scientific officer of Ankasa and a professor at Stanford University, led the research backed by CIRM. 

The review summary said the proposed treatment could have application in other areas as well. It is likely to be some years before the procedure would be widely available. Today's award supports efforts by Ankasa to gain federal approval to begin clinical trials.

See here for the CIRM press release on the award. 

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