Stem cell agency OKs $5 million for COVID-19 research

Illustration: Aleksey Novikov, via Shutterstock),

California’s stem cell agency, in an emergency action, has allocated $5 million for research into treatments for Covid-19 and set the deadline for the first applications for one week from today (March 31).

The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), approved the funding Friday during an emergency meeting of its governing board.

CIRM’s move comes as itself is facing a mortal financial threat.

In an item yesterday on the CIRM blog, Maria Millan, CEO and president, said,”California researchers have made us aware that they are pursuing potential stem cell based approaches to the Covid-19 crisis, and  we felt it was our responsibility to respond by doing all we can to support this research and doing so as quickly as we possibly can.”

The agency set accelerated timetables for action, both by the agency and applicants. It said it would expect winning applicants to begin work within 30 days of being approved.

CIRM’s move comes as itself is facing a mortal financial threat. It was created by voters CIRM in 2004 with $3 billion. It is now down to its last $27 million and is hoping voters will approve $5.5 billion more via a proposal that is yet to qualify for the November ballot. Otherwise CIRM’s doors will begin to close in the fall.

Presumably, billions of private and public dollars are already pouring globally into the search for various aspects of Covid-19, so the $5 million is a relatively tiny amount. CIRM has developed a speedy process, however, for bringing funds to bear on research and is acting to accelerate that even further.

“The investment by California’s stem cell institute to combat Covid-19 highlights the remarkable potential of this research…” — Robert Klein

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the CIRM board, said, “The coronavirus is creating an unprecedented threat to all of us and, as one of the leading players in regenerative medicine, we are committed to doing all we can to develop the tools and promote the research that will help us respond to that threat.”

The campaign to qualify the $5.5 billion initiative for the ballot released a statement heralding the action by CIRM. Robert Klein, the Palo Alto real estate developer behind both the original ballot measure and this year’s funding initiative for CIRM, said, “The investment by California’s stem cell institute to combat Covid-19 highlights the remarkable potential of this research and therapy development to impact the lives of every Californian. …We urge Californians to think back on this moment, when they decide the fate of future life-saving stem cell discoveries and treatments come November.”

The campaign said 10 days ago that it has suspended the gathering of signatures. It is not clear whether it has enough to qualify for the fall ballot. More than 600,000 valid signatures are required.

Here are links to additional CIRM information on its Covid-19 program:

Concept statement

Application information and timetables

Presentation slides from last week’s meeting

CIRM’s news release

Editor’s 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 15 years. 

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