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Category Archives: Stem Cells

Tracking the Fruits of California Stem Cell Agency Research

The California stem
cell agency yesterday shed some interesting light on the awards in its $41
million round this week and their pathway to actually producing a product that
can be used to treat persons who are suffering from diseases.

It is a difficult and
long journey to generate usable therapies, a process poorly understood by the
public, which was promised in 2004 that the stem cell agency would produce
cures for ailments afflicting half the population of the state.

Writing on the agency’s blog, Amy Adams, CIRM communications manager, dealt with the issue indirectly.
She said,

“Many scientists who
receive our early translation awards first got their idea for a therapy while
carrying out research with one of our other awards. In fact, eight of the
scientists in this round of funding had previous CIRM funding for an earlier
stage of research. If a scientist's early translation award provides good
results, the scientists are then able to apply for one of our disease team
awards, which fund the effort of compiling data to convince the Food and Drug
to allow them to test it in people.  Other organizations
fund only early discovery research or only preclinical research. Under those
conditions, researchers continually pause their projects to look for new
sources of funding as the project moves through the phases toward clinical

One of the virtues of
the California stem cell agency is its promise of a continued stream of
funding. Former Chairman Robert Klein used to tout that particular aspect of
the agency, particularly in light of limited federal resources.

Adams’ comments
implicitly raise important questions concerning CIRM’s entire portfolio. How
many CIRM grants have led to additional funding from CIRM? How many are
basically one-off shots that have not led to research that has advanced the
development of stem cell therapies, either via CIRM or other funding. What is the
therapeutic and scientific significance of the research that is linked by more
than one CIRM award?  What previously
funded CIRM research could be fruitfully funded again to advance the science
and not necessarily through the traditional grant rounds, which sometimes have
awkward timing?

Unmentioned in Adams’
item is an application from a UC Irvine researcher that came up at Wednesday’s
meeting of the governing board of the stem cell agency. The woman, whose name
was not clearly audible on the Internet audiocast, publicly appealed rejection
of her application by reviewers. She noted that it was an extension of work
that was previously funded by the agency. She also noted that the score on her
review was all but identical to work that was funded. The board, however,
turned her appeal aside, which had already been rejected behind closed doors by
CIRM staff.

Hers is not the only
such case in CIRM history. But they are virtually impossible to track systematically
because of the structure of the CIRM grant-making progress. It is also not
clear whether the agency itself is tracking its research awards to determine if
they result in continuing, fruitful research in a specific area. Nonetheless,
the matter deserves some public attention. 


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UCLA Takes Four of 13 Awards Today; One Business Wins

The California stem cell agency has
made it official, sending out its press release on the $41 million in grants
approved today for institutions throughout the state. 

Most of the 13 awards, as usual, went to organizations represented on the governing board of
the agency. Individual board members, however, are barred from voting on specific grants
to their organizations. 
UCLA topped the list with four grants. No other
institution received more than one, including only one business, Numerate, Inc., of San Bruno,
via John
, the firm's chief scientific officer. The lack of awards
to businesses has long been a sore subject in the biotech community. 
The only news story so far was written by Bradley Fikes of the San Diego U-T, which circulates in an area that is a hotbed of biotech research. Institutions there snagged $12.6 million in four grants. Fikes also
identified one of the five researchers who lost their appeals on negative grant
review decisions. He is Evan
 leader of stem cell research at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research
 in La Jolla, who
had a $5 million request before the agency.


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Stem Cell Agency Seeks Stronger Ties with Possible Industry Funding Partners

The California stem cell agency today triggered a new program aimed at recruiting major biotech and venture capital firms to assist in providing tens of millions of dollars for research by California enterprises.

The effort, part of an $80 million business-friendly initiative, was approved by the agency's governing board on a voice vote.

Participating companies will have a special relationship with the state agency, according to a staff document. The "industry collaborators" will have early input into concept funding proposals prior to their presentation to the agency's governing board. The companies will also be able to attend agency workshops and meetings involving hundreds of grant recipients. 
Other aspects of the proposal call for special event-hosting arrangements aimed at creating more collaborations along with posting of information from the selected collaborators on the CIRM website.


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UCLA Snags $3.6 Million from California Stem Cell Agency

UCLA scored today with at least two grants, totaling $3.6 million, from the California stem cell agency. 

Seeking the cash were Donald Kohn,  application 6823, and Gerald Lipshutz, application 6831. Both of the  grants are for $1.8 million each. 

Their applications were initially in the agency's tier two category, which means that CIRM's reviewers did not approve them outright for funding.  CIRM staff, however, did under a new procedure, and the agency's governing ratified the recommendation. 

Lipshutz also appeared before the board along with several patient advocates who made emotional appeals for funding. Lipshutz's research deals with urea cycle disorders, which occur in one out of 8,200 births. Current treatment is arduous and can involve liver transplants.  

Kohn's research deals with sickle cell disease, which afflicts primarily African-Americans. His efforts are aimed at correcting the sickle gene defect in the blood stem cells before transplanting them back into the patient.


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$41 Million in California Stem Cell Grants Virtually Approved

Directors of the California stem cell agency today all but approved about $41 million in early translational grants, rejecting all appeals by applicants and accepting staff recommendations on marginal grants.

The roll call vote was held open this morning to record a vote by one board member who was not present at the time. It is virtually certain that the member will vote in favor of affirmative action on the applications in question.

One member of the board, Joan Samuelson, abstained from voting on any of the applications. She said she did not think the board had adequate information on its total grant portfolio, particularly in view of the declining amount of money available.

The agency has about $600 million in uncommitted funds and is scheduled to run out of cash for new grants in 2017.

The research acted on today is aimed at “proof of concept for development of a therapy candidate and/or studies to select a development candidate. The approved grants can be found on this CIRM website page and are listed in tier one and tier two.  Identities of the applicants are withheld by CIRM to avoid embarrassing rejected candidates and to avoid disclosing the names of applicants to board members before they vote. However, applicants often appear before the board, as they did today, and identify themselves.

Five applicants appealed negative decisions on their applications by grant reviewers. The agency declined to disclose the appeal letters or identify the applicants, information that was a public record under the previous appeal procedures. New processes were put in place this spring that moved the appeals behind closed doors and made them subject to staff instead of board review. Nonetheless, rejected researchers have a legal right to address the board on appeals or any other matters.

At the request of the California Stem Cell Report, the agency provided the numbers of the grants on which appeals were filed. They are: 06787, 06888, 06761, 06793 and 06830. Review summaries on the applications can be found here. 

We have asked the agency to provide its legal and policy justification for now withholding information that was once a public record.


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Stem Cell Agency Pays Tribute to the Late Duane Roth

The governing board of the California stem cell agency today paid tribute to the late Duane Roth, co- vice chairman of the agency, who died recently as the result of a bicycle accident.

With members of Roth's family present, CIRM Chairman J.T. Thomas characterized Roth, 63, as a "voice of reason" on the 29-member board. The video included testimonials from both staff and board members.

He was described as a "kind person" who could find "common ground" on difficult issues. Roth was deeply involved in San Diego affairs that went well beyond the stem cell agency. More than 1,000 persons attended memorial services for Roth earlier this month in San Diego.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said following the video that he will "miss (Roth) terribly" and expressed  "hope that his memory will lighten and brighten the day for all of us."

Jeanne Loring, a stem cell researcher at Scripps, said Roth "inspired us to do more than we thought we could do." She said he was an unusual kind of businessman who respected science.  "I wish I could thank him one more time," she said.Source:

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