Tuesday, May 21, 2019

California Stem Cell Funding Flap: Stanford Ponies Up $1.8 Million

Stanford University has come through on matching funds for state-financed stem cell research, coughing up $1.8 million after California's stem cell agency applied a little financial pressure.

The matter involves Stanford  researcher Judith Shizuru, who is conducting a clinical trial that is aimed at treating the "bubble boy" genetic affliction without requiring high-risk chemotherapy or radiation. Her work has implications for reducing the need for the dangerous treatments in other diseases. 

In 2012, Shizuru was awarded $19 million by the stem cell agency for her trial. Late last year, she applied for $6 million more. 

Sharp questions arose, however, from the governing board of the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. It was the first time that the CIRM board had publicly rebuked a grantee and an institution on co-funding.

The board noted that the $19 million grant required $1.8 million in matching funds that had not been forthcoming.  

Directors pointed out that Stanford was well-endowed and should not be hard-pressed to provide cash to help develop a potentially "transformative" product that would eliminate the toxic impact of chemotherapy for a number of diseases. 

That was back in January. The CIRM directors set a May 1 deadline for seeing the cash. 

Last month the agency, which expects to run out of funds for new awards later this year, received a letter from Robert Harrington, the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Stanford. 

The letter said, 
"This letter is to confirm that the Department of Medicine will provide funding in the amount of $1,784,953 to meet the required co-funding for Operational Milestones #3 and #4 disbursements as referenced in your email dated 3/14/19 for the above referenced grant. These funds are available immediately to Dr. Shizuru for the study."
The flap also led to an inside look at how research funding works at the stem cell agency in a case involving a rare affliction, delays in clinical trials and the financial pressures now facing CIRM. 

Over its 14-year life, the agency has awarded $2.6 billion. Stanford is the No. 1 recipient with $383 million. Its total far exceeds the No. 2 recipient, UCLA, which has chalked up $284 million. 

Nine out of the top 10 recipient institutions, including Stanford and UCLA, have members on the CIRM governing board. They are not allowed to vote on awards to their institutions, but they establish the research award programs and their rules. 

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