Friday, December 11, 2020

California Stem Cell Agency Set to Fund $182 Million in Research in Next Six Months

Click on the above to see a recording of today's online meeting of the CIRM Science Committee

California's newly rejuvenated stem cell program today kicked off its fresh spending plans with a $182 million effort that focuses heavily on awards that could lead more quickly to actual treatments.

The plan was approved by the Science Committee of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the $12 billion agency is formally known. CIRM was running out of money until voters this fall approved Proposition 14 and rescued the agency from financial oblivion. 

The $182 million plan for the first half of next year represents CIRM's first major dip into its new, $5.5 billion bucket that was created by narrow voter approval of Proposition 14. The full board is expected to approve the new research budget at its Dec. 21 meeting

The program allots $100 million for possibly 10 clinical awards in the next six months. Translational research will receive $60 million (11 awards). "Quest" research is allotted $22 million for 15 awards. Quest awards involve early stage, basic research while translational research involves attempts to move basic research into the clinical level. 

Clinical trials are the last hurdle to clear before a treatment can be approved by the federal government for widespread use. No CIRM-financed stem cell treatments have yet received that approval since the agency began its work 16 years ago. CIRM, however, has helped to fund 68 ongoing clinical trials. 

The Science Committee has 10 members, at least six of whom are linked to institutions or businesses that could apply for CIRM funding.  While members of the 35-member CIRM board can vote on the overall research budget and also "concept" plans for such things as Quest and clinical research, they are barred from voting on specific applications from institutions that they are connected to.  

The Science Committee also approved changes aimed at increasing diversity in CIRM-related research and requiring greater data sharing by scientists. The committee strengthened the staff-proposed diversity language by also proposing scoring applications on how they beef up diversity among researchers. Details on that are yet to be worked out and will be presented to the full board on Dec. 21. 

A call for more diversity among researchers was aired last month at a meeting of the only state entity charged with reviewing CIRM's financial affairs. 

The data-sharing requirement triggered some concern about whether it would be a disincentive to some researchers who feared losing control over their intellectual property.  However, CIRM CEO Maria Millan said the agency was treading carefully to take those concerns into consideration. 

Researchers will be able to apply for the awards shortly after Jan. 1 when detailed program announcements will be released by CIRM. 

Here are links to the changes approved for the Quest program, the translational program and the clinical programs. 

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