Monday, July 01, 2019

Hard News for Patients, Scientists: California Shuts Down Applications for Its Stem Cell Research Funding

The California's stem agency's rundown on its clinical
 Some of the trials have saved lives.
The $3 billion California stem cell agency today served up the bad news with only a smattering of sugar coating.

No more applications for research funding are being accepted. The cash is running out, perhaps as early as the end of August.

In a posting on its blog, The Stem Cellar, the agency declared,

"It’s never easy to tell someone that they are too late, that they missed the deadline. It’s particularly hard when you know that the person you are telling that to has spent years working on a project and now needs money to take it to the next level. But in science, as in life, it’s always better to tell people what they need to know rather than what they would like to hear."
The news is no surprise to persons who follow the agency. But today brought a more clearly emerging sense of finality.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, was created in 2004 by voters who also provided $3 billion in bond funding. However, the CIRM ballot measure also contained the seeds of destruction for the agency. No other cash was provided. No other significant means of funding was laid out.

Today, the agency is pinning its hopes for survival on a yet-to-be-written ballot initiative for the November 2020 ballot. To bridge the gap between now and then, CIRM has been attempting for months to raise privately more than $200 million. So far, no results have emerged publicly. 

As of last month, the agency had in its pipeline applications for $88 million in research funding. But it had only $33 million left for new awards. 

CIRM reports it has enough cash on hand to administer its portfolio of awards, which stretch out a couple of years.

Fifteen days ago the agency quietly announced the application shutdown. Little public notice of the action was taken even in California's stem cell community, which has grown mightily over the nearly 15-year life of the agency. 

During that period, CIRM has helped finance 55 clinical trials targeting diseases ranging from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and arthritis. It has served up 1,015 research awards. The scientists it has supported have published more than 3,000 research papers. 

However, CIRM has yet to fulfill the campaign-generated expectations of the 7,018,059 voters in 2004 who voted to create it and who thought they would see new, widely available, miraculous cures. Impressive results, some of which have saved lives, have surfaced from some of the clinical trials. But the elusive stem cell cure that would be ready for the general public is yet to hit the streets.

The Oakland-based agency is not done yet nor is it out of business.  Its reviewers are expected to meet later this month to make the de facto decisions on some of the pending applications. And then again in August. 

More needs to be done in terms of the private fundraising effort. And more needs to be done in crafting a new ballot measure that would bring $5.5 billion to CIRM.  

In the CIRM blog item today, written by Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, the agency declared, 
"Over the years we have built a pipeline of promising projects and without continued support many of those projects face a difficult future. Funding at the federal level is under threat and without CIRM there will be a limited number of funding alternatives for them to turn to.
"Telling researchers we don’t have any money to support their work is hard. Telling patients we don’t have any money to support work that could lead to new treatments for them, that’s hardest of all."

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