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CIRM eyes final $800 million for stem cell research

A liquid nitrogen bank containing a suspension of stem cells. (Photo: Elena Pavlovich)

If you are interested in how the state of California is going to spend its final $800 million or so on stem cell research, you should catch a key meeting next Tuesday in Oakland, which also can be heard online.

The session involves the 29-member, governing board of the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the state stem cell agency is formally known.

The agency was created by California voters in 2004 with voters’ expectation that stem cell therapies were all but just around the corner. So far, no therapies have been developed by the agency that are available for widespread use.

Nonetheless, the agency, which runs out of money in 2020, is pushing hard. It has more than 20 clinical trials underway, which is the last step in bringing a therapy to market. However, those trials can take years with no guarantee that a proposed product will emerge successfully.

On tap on Tuesday will be a look at the agency’s research plans for the next three years with a review of how it has performed so far in 2016. The agency’s proposal for research spending in 2017 is likely to have a significant impact on the hundreds of stem cell researchers in California. The proposal is not yet available online, however, with only two business days left before the meeting.

CIRM is also hinting that there will be some surprises at the meeting, but it is unlikely that a product announcement will be forthcoming.

Additionally on tap are applications for a total of $14.9 million for two early-stage clinical trials. One is for $6.7 million (CLIN2-09439) to test using stem cells and T cells to eliminate the life-long need for immunosuppresive drugs by kidney transplant recipients. The other (CLIN2-09698) is for $8.3 million for a mid-stage trial (2b) for a therapy for retinitis pigmentosa.

The applications were approved for funding by the agency’s grant reviewers, who meet behind closed doors and do not publicly disclose their economic or professional interests. Ratification of the reviewer decisions is a formality for the agency. although the names of the recipients are not generally disclosed prior to board action.

The board is expected to re-elect Jonathan Thomas as chairman of the panel. Thomas was elected to the position in 2011. He has sent a  two-page letter to the board detailing his work during the last five years. Also scheduled to be re-elected is Art Torres as vice chairman.

Thomas receives $400,000 annually for his “80 percent effort” in the part-time position. Torres, a former state lawmaker, receives $225,000, also for an “80 percent effort.”

Instructions for listening to the meeting online can be found on the agenda. In addition to main meeting site in Oakland, public telephonic locations exist in San Diego and La Jolla. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.

Eds’ Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared.  He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 11 years.


  • Gibarian

    And then the money runs out….

    Something California does not do well is establish endowments to make things sustainable. Put it into a permanent fund so there is a true pure research legacy out of the bonds we are going to pay off for generations.

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