California’s drive to produce a stem cell therapy is ratcheting up a notch with announcement of two new, global industry partners along with a plan to engage more companies and give them “direct access” to hundreds of millions of dollars in state-funded research.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the $3 billion state stem cell agency is formally known, said the program represents an opportunity “to bring the most promising stem cell, gene therapy and regenerative medicine programs to market where they can help people with unmet medical needs.”
The stem cell agency is nearing its final days and is looking to fulfill promises to California voters who created it 13 years ago through a ballot initiative.
The first two participants are BlueRock Therapeutics of Cambridge, Ma., with offices in Toronto and New York City, and Vivo Capital of Palo Alto, Ca., which has offices in Bejing, Shanghai and Tapei. BlueRock was founded in 2016 with $225 million in backing from Versant Ventures and Bayer AG. Vivo has more than $1.7 billion under management, according to the firm’s web site.
In addition to venture capital firms, the agency said its Industry Alliance Program (IAP) is looking for pharmaceutical and biotech partners to give them “direct access to CIRM’s growing stem cell portfolio.”
Maria Millan, CEO and president of CIRM, said in a news release, “The goal of the IAP is to secure industry partnerships and funding for CIRM’s translational and clinical-stage projects. Our agency provides researchers the initial funding to advance promising projects towards the clinic. Now, we’re going a step further by offering a program that facilitates connections between industry partners and our grantees. These companies can offer the support or additional funding needed to give these promising projects the best chance for success and the best chance of helping patients.”
The stem cell agency is nearing its final days and is looking to fulfill promises to California voters who created it 13 years ago through a ballot initiative. The measure provided $3 billion in state bond funding, but no more. The campaign also generated expectations that stem cell cures were just around the corner. The agency has yet to back a therapy that is widely available.
The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of next year. A $220 million private fundraising effort is being waged to help the agency along until November 2020. That’s when CIRM backers hope that the agency’s efforts will excite California voters enough for them to approve $5 billion more in funding via another citizen-based initiative.
Deeper involvement with industry is one way to produce quicker results. Venture capital firms are willing to move fast and bet big on research that they deem likely to produce handsome profits.
BlueRock focuses on cell therapies that target severe brain and heart conditions. According to Biospace, the company expects its most advanced lead therapeutic, a compound for Parkinson’s disease, to begin clinical trials this year.
California also brings something to the game. Karen Ring, the agency’s Internet majordomo, noted last week on the agency’s blog,
“CIRM is the world’s largest stem cell research funding institution dedicated to helping patients by accelerating the development of quality stem cell treatments. We’re currently funding 244 active stem cell research programs including 39 ongoing clinical trials.”
Neil Litman, the agency’s director of business development, said CIRM has a “unique vantage point” because of its broad scope. He said the new program is “essentially a built-in concierge service for the stem cell space.” Sphere: Related Contentstem cell.
Ed’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 11 years.