Tuesday, December 08, 2020

California Stem Cell Agency Beefs Up Budget with Plans to Hire 10 More Persons

The California stem cell agency this morning moved to boost its annual operations budget to $15.3 million, up from the $12.3 million spending plan approved last June. 

The increase came as a result of the passage of Proposition 14, which saved the agency from financial extinction and provides $5.5 billion in state bonds over the next decade or so. The amount brings to $12 billion the expected cost of the agency before it again runs out of cash. 

The 2020-21 budget originally stood at $12.3 million because it anticipated the possible phase-out of the agency, known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). 

The increases approved today by the CIRM directors' Finance Committee were aimed mainly at hiring additional staff. The agency currently has 33 employees and never has had more than 62. The budget provides for up to 10 new employees, directors were told. 

More are expected to be needed as the agency moves into the new, expanded role authorized by Proposition 14, which provides for more than 85 employees for CIRM.

Other increases were generated by the cost of a triennial, performance audit required by state law, which has run about $230,000, although the audit is barred from evaluating the agency's scientific performance. Legal and related expenses will be increasing by about $318,000. Currently, CIRM has one lawyer on staff with other legal services provided under an outside contract. The general counsel position is vacant. 

Cash for the new budget will come from the agency's existing funds. Proposition 14 funds will not be available until next year. 

(Here are links to today's documents prepared by Jennifer Lewis, acting finance director, dealing with the agency's operational budget: finance presentationfinance appendix.)

The operations budget is relatively minor compared to the amount to be awarded for research grants. That budget is being revised for the first half of next year. The directors Science Committee is scheduled to consider that topic on Friday but has not yet publicly disclosed the staff recommendations. 

(After this item was posted, the stem cell agency added documents to the Friday agenda that dealt with changes in the basic, translational and clinical awards programs, which should be of considerable interest to applicants, among others. See link in the preceding paragraph.)

The Friday meeting is public, as are nearly all CIRM meetings, and can be seen online. The public, including researchers, may comment on each item and address the board as well on any subject at the end of the meeting. 

During the first half of 2021, CIRM directors will be drafting a revised strategic plan that will determine allocations for such areas as basic and translational research and clinical work over the next five years. Also on the table will be a number of new areas for research and significant work on accessibility and affordability issues related to possible stem cell treatments.

The next meeting of the CIRM board is scheduled for Dec. 21 at which it is expected to ratify today's action. 

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