Monday, November 27, 2017

California Tightening Stem Cell Research Belt; Size of Research Awards Targeted

The stem cell agency outlined its assessment of its current position
 in this slide prepared for today's meeting. 

OAKLAND, Ca. -- California's $3 billion stem cell agency is preparing to put the squeeze on its research awards over the next two years, cutting the caps on new grants in some areas by 50 percent or more.

It is all part of a strategy to prolong the life of the 13-year-old research effort as it fights to fulfill the expectations of voters who created it when they approved a ballot initiative in 2004. Voters provided only $3 billion in funding, however, and the agency is now expected to run out of cash for awards in 2019 unless it changes its financial ways.

Meeting here today are two key groups, the Transition and Science subcommittees of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known.

They are scheduled to wrestle with both the agency's short-term finances and the longer term effort to extend CIRM's life for perhaps an additional 10 years or more via another ballot initiative in 2020. As for next year, based on past discussions and practices it appears certain that the agency's directors will reduce the size of awards to the scientists and businesses who are often hard-pressed to find non-governmental support.

A proposal by the president of CIRM, Maria Millan, calls for reducing clinical program awards by a total of $68 million over the next two years. Here is how the cuts would work compared to the average award this year in each category.
  • Phase 1 and phase 1/2 clinical trial grants would see their caps reduced from $20 million to $12 million for nonprofits and $8 million for for-profit enterprises. The average award in 2017 in these categories was $10.3 million. 
  • Phase 2 trials would see their caps cut from also $20 million to $15 million for both non-profit and for-profit enterprises. The 2017 average award was $15.3 million. 
  • Phase 3 trial awards, which averaged $16.7 million in 2017, would have their caps cut from $20 million to $10 million for both types of enterprises.
Millan's presentation indicated that would her proposals would allow the agency to support 24 new trials and eight trial candidates over the next two years, in keeping with a strategy of taking "more shots on goal" as the agency tries to develop a stem cell therapy for widespread use. Clinical trials, which can take years, are the last stage before a therapy is approved by the federal government. 

Millan's plan would also allot only $10 million for what the agency calls "Discovery" awards (basic research) next year (10 projects) and $9.25 million in 2019 (nine projects). Discovery awards are expected to hit $46 million this year. Education awards are expected to total $1 million this year. Next year they  would receive $750,000 and nothing in 2019. 

Key to the spending plan is the assumption that the agency could raise an additional $220 million from a variety of sources between the end of next year and early 2020. The goal of the fund raising is to bring in $55 million by the final quarter of next year. The rest would be raised between then and the first quarter of  2020. 

CIRM did not release details of its strategy for raising the $220 million. CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas, however, has already been on the fundraising trail and reports that he has identified a number of potential donors.

The financial plans and any changes will go to the full board for ratification at a meeting Dec. 14 here at CIRM headquarters.

The California Stem Cell Report will cover today's meeting and file reports as warranted on this web site. Below is another presentation slide from the stem cell agency. 



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