California’s $3 billion stem cell research program later this month is expected to unveil detailed plans for extending its life beyond the middle of 2020 in hopes of avoiding a lingering death.
The latest proposals, which are not yet public, are scheduled to be discussed Nov. 27. Possibilities range from another multi-billion dollar bond measure to private fundraising to possible merger with some sort of private entity.
The stem cell agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), projects its cash for new awards will run out in about 2 1/2 years. At that point, unless more money is forthcoming, CIRM will only be overseeing the dwindling number of awards whose terms extend beyond June of 2020.
The agency’s fate was dictated by Proposition 71, which created CIRM in 2004. It also provided $3 billion in state bond funding, which flows directly to CIRM without oversight by the governor or the legislature. No additional, significant resources were contained in the ballot initiative.
CIRM’s future has been an occasional topic for its board for some time. But the issue has taken on more urgency this year. At a meeting in September of a newly formed Transition Subcommittee of the governing board, CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas said in what may have been an understatement, “CIRM, as we know, is at a critical stage of its mission here.”
The meeting on Nov. 27 will additionally involve the board’s Science Subcommittee. What emerges from the session will go to the full, 29-member board in December for ratification.
Options in September included a multi-billion dollar bond ballot measure in 2020 and a possible merger, which was described as something of a last resort. Whatever path is chosen, it likely would lead to changes in the agency, which has been criticized for conflict of interest issues and its dual executive arrangement, among other matters.
The agency has awarded $2.3 billion in 919 grants during its 13-year history. About 90 percent of the awards has gone to institutions with links to members of the governing board, past and present, according to calculations by the California Stem Cell Report.
So far the agency has not fulfilled expectations of voters that it would generate a widely available therapy. Something may emerge in the next couple of years from the 38 clinical trials currently backed by the agency. (Forty-three have been funded but five were terminated.) The trials, which can take years, are the last stage before a therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for widespread use. CIRM plans to add more trials in the next couple of years.
This month’s meeting will be based at CIRM’s Oakland headquarters with teleconference locations elsewhere in the state where the public can take part. It is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. PST and run until 4 p.m.
The California Stem Cell Report will provide full coverage of the meeting that day with advance information as it is posted on the CIRM web site.(Here is a link to the transcript of the September meeting. Here is a link to Thomas’ slide presentation.)