Friday, January 13, 2017

Latest Targets of the California Stem Cell Agency: $26 Million for Zika, Heart Disease and Much More

The California stem cell agency next Thursday expects to award nearly $26 million to 14 scientists to seek therapies for afflictions ranging from cystic fibrosis to Zika.

The awards have all been approved by the agency's out-of-state reviewers in a round called "Quest." The $3 billion agency's board is scheduled to ratify reviewers' decisions at a telephonic meeting next week. The board almost never overturns its reviewers' decisions.

The expected outcome of a Quest award is "a candidate therapeutic, medical device, diagnostic or tool that is ready for translational stage activities."

The application receiving the highest score, 95, is seeking to develop "CRISPR/Cas9 mediated FOXP3 gene editing in patient-derived hematopoietic stem cells as a cure for IPEX syndrome."

The review summary on the $1.1 million proposal said,
"Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, we will insert a wild type copy of the FOXP3 gene into patient derived HSCs, enabling pre-clinical proof of concept data for clinical trials that could reduce IPEX patient pathologies. This work will the first-in-man demonstration of the curative potential of edited HSCs and will help maintain California’s lead position in stem cell research and cure."
IPEX syndrome is a rare disease that can lead to diabetes and severe enlargement of secondary lymphoid organs.

The Zika award received the second highest score, 93. It is aimed at determining the "the impact of the Zika virus during human neurodevelopment and to test a FDA-approved therapeutic candidate to treat Zika infection." The research is budgeted for $2.1 million. 

The largest award, $2.4 million, is aimed at a gene therapy to "regenerate heart muscle for the 23 million adult and pediatric patients with heart failure, for whom there are currently no disease-modifying therapeutic approaches."  It received a score of 88.

The cystic fibrosis application was scored at 85, which was right at the cutoff line for funding. The proposal is aimed at "genome editing to correct cystic fibrosis mutations in airway  stem cells."  The application sought $2.2 million.

The reviews of 14 applications can be found here along with the reviews of unsuccessful applicants who scored from 84 to 65. None of the names of the applicants have been released yet by the agency, which withholds the information until after the board ratifies the reviewer decisions. 

Here is a link to the agenda for the meeting, which includes remote locations throughout the state at which the public can participate in the meeting and speak to the board. The meeting is also expected to be available through an audiocast. 

Remote locations include Oakland, San Diego, Napa, Irvine, Los Gatos, Elk Grove and San Francisco. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.  
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, January 08, 2017

More Than $300 Million to be Awarded: California Schedules 12 Stem Cell Agency Board Meetings This Year

California's $3 billion stem cell agency has scheduled governing board meetings every month this year as it plans to give away more than $300 million.

The board has two types of meetings: telephonic, which are usually routine, ratifying earlier decisions on individual grant applications, and face-to-face meetings, of which there are only four. The face-to-face meetings often involve approval of concepts for new award rounds or significant changes in rules or policies.

Readers interested in the agency should think about taking in one of the four face-to-face sessions. They provide an opportunity to chat informally with board members along with the top staff of the agency.

The telephonic sessions are run out of the agency's Oakland headquarters, another opportunity for face-to-face encounters with some CIRM board members and staff. 

In addition to board meetings, subcommittees meet off and on during the year, sometimes by telephone and face-to-face. But there is no set schedule.

In both types of meetings, they can be listened to via the Internet and also participated in via remote locations at board member sites. All the meetings can be found at this Web site, which provides transcripts of the sessions. Readers can sign up for automatic notifications at that site. 

Here is the rundown.

January 19th, 2017, Telephonic
February 23rd, 2017 Bay Area, face to face
March 23rd, 2017, Telephonic
April 27th, 2017, Telephonic
May 25th, 2017, Telephonic
June 29th, 2017, Bay Area, face to face
July 20, 2017, Telephonic
August, 24th, 2017, Telephonic
September 21st, 2017, Bay Area, face to face
October 26th, 2017, Telephonic
November 30, 2017, Telephonic
December 14th, 2017, Bay Area, face to face
Meeting dates and locations are subject to change
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Update: Lengthier Look at CIRM Delayed

The lengthier look at the performance of the California stem cell agency that was promised earlier this week has been delayed for reasons beyond our control.

But it will be forthcoming, nonetheless. If you would like to add your thoughts to the piece, please direct them to Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 06, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Director Sheehy Named to SF Board of Supervisors

Jeff Sheehy at podium today at San Francisco announcement
A long time member of the governing board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, Jeff Sheehy, today was appointed to the San Francisco board of supervisors.

Sheehy is the first HIV-positive person to serve on the powerful, five-member board, which directs the $9 billion budget of the City of San Francisco. Sheehy's appointment means that he will be on the San Francisco board until 2018 when he must stand for election.  He fills a vacancy created when a former supervisor, Scott Wiener, was elected to the state Senate last year. 

It is not uncommon for San Francisco supervisors to be elected to higher office, including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein

Sheehy will continue to be an AIDS patient advocate member of  the board of the stem cell agency, which he has served on since its inception. He is vice chairman of the grants review group, which makes the de facto decisions on the research awards handed out by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the Oakland-based agency is formally known.  Sheehy is also chairman of the Science Subcommittee of the agency's board and is director of communications for the UC San Francisco Aids Research Institute.

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of CIRM, and vice chairman Art Torres, former head of the state Democratic Party, issued a statement saying they were "delighted" by the appointment. They said Sheehy has brought "intelligence, dedication and compassion to everything he does."

Sheehy was appointed to the supervisorial board by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The 2016 Report From the California Stem Cell Agency: Challenges and Accomplishments

Stem cell agency's annual report cover
California's $3 billion stem cell agency has filed its 2016 annual report, which is chockablock with stories about people aided by stem cell research plus discussions of speed, clarity and clinical trials. 

The posting of the 20-page report on the agency's web site came 12 hours before the end of year on Friday.

"Challenges remain but new cures are emerging" was the headline on the document. "All in. All out" was how the agency's work was characterized.

Much of what was contained in the report has been written about previously on the California Stem Cell Report. But the annual report provides a useful and valuable summary of the agency's work for those interested in whether it is fulfilling the promises of the 2004 ballot initiative that created the agency, which is unprecedented in state history. 

Some of the notable numbers for the Oakland-based, 48-person agency, which is known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM):

  • Over the last two years, the agency has helped to finance 27 clinical trials and is looking for another 40 by 2020.
  • More than 180 "inventions" have been chalked up.
  • More than 250 projects are currently being managed by the CIRM team.
  • Twelve "world-class" research facilities have been created over the last 12 years.
  • Three Alpha Clinics, intended to be one-stop stem cell centers, are in operation. A fourth is scheduled for this year.
  • A $30 million stem cell "pitching machine" to speed clinical trials and help guide development through federal regulations began operations in 2016.

  • Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the agency, said in the report, 
    "However, there can be no greater return on our investment than the restoration of health. That is now occurring because of CIRM. Evangelina (featured on the cover), stricken with a previously incurable immune system disorder, is now cured. That’s right, cured. And we are working to quicken the pace at which this treatment is available to others. This is the promise of stem cell therapy."
    The California Stem Cell Report will have a lengthier look at the agency later this week. Sphere: Related Content

    Friday, December 23, 2016

    Holiday Break for California Stem Cell Report

    This web site will go dark for the holidays. If we are lucky, it will resume on Jan. 3. Best wishes to all and Happy New Year. Sphere: Related Content

    Thursday, December 22, 2016

    California Stem Cell Agency Says Companies Seeking "Better Deal" in Unique, $150 Million Plan

    Five responses to plan
    Application process is not a negotiation
    Protection of state taxpayers paramount
    More talks with companies planned

    The president of the California stem cell agency, Randy Mills, yesterday said that the firms that responded to an ambitious proposal to create a $150 million public/private partnership were seeking to make a "better deal" than the agency had offered.

    Mills said that the agency was "not going to give away something that is not in the best interests of the people of California."

    Randy Mills, FDA photo
    Mills was responding to questions raised earlier this week as a result of a report on this web site that
    the proposal has hit a significant snag. The plan is aimed at creating a unique enterprise to speed development of stem cell therapies and to help establish California as a global stem cell powerhouse. The new company would be backed by a $75 million state loan (discounted to 50 percent payback)  with a matching $75 million coming from a successful applicant. The company would have the pick of agency research that did not already have a commercial partner.

    The deadline for applications was Oct. 31. Up until yesterday, the agency had not even disclosed the number of responses to the request for applications(RFA). Nor had it gone beyond vague expressions of the issues troubling the proposal.

    In a telephone interview with the California Stem Cell Report, Mills said that five responses were received on Oct. 31. But he said none were eligible for consideration because they did not meet the requirements of the RFA. He said the responses indicated that the companies viewed the application process as a "negotiation." Mills said "all kinds of terms" were proposed that were "different than in the RFA." He said,
    "We put forward what we thought was a very good deal. The heads of the companies wanted to make a better deal."
    Mills added,
    "The deal is as good as the deal is going to get."
    He said the $3 billion agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has to be willing to walk away if the deal is not appropriate.  He said the agency had a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. "My investors are the people of California," Mills said.

    Mills said, however, he was going to discuss the proposal further with those who responded to determine whether it was a matter of "terms or time." He said the proposal was innovative and unusual, posing challenges for both the companies and the agency.

    Mills comments came as he was responding to questions raised by a reader of the California Stem Cell Report, Ed Snively, of El Centro, Ca. Snively is a longtime participant in local affairs in his area in Imperial County and has long followed stem cell agency matters.

    He wrote in an email to California Stem Cell Report,
    "Thank you, David, for this interesting observation on selective transparency by the agency. The comments by Mills regarding state regulatory compliance and taxpayer procedure acceptance were curious to me. I think Mills owes an explanation of his remarks to taxpayers. If this 'bold' plan violates the terms of the agency contract with the state and stakeholder/taxpayers then Mills needs to explain why that is. What he has done is make me think that something right on the legal edge is going on behind closed doors. I hate that in public agencies."
    The California Stem Cell Report emailed the comments to the agency, asking if it would like to respond.

    In the subsequent telephone interview, Mills said that he did not want the agency to be perceived as selectively transparent and that he had "no problem" in answering any questions.  He said that if his earlier comments were not clear that it was his fault, and he elaborated on the issues involved.

    But under the agency's longstanding rules, it does not disclose the names of applicants nor does it disclose their applications -- only a review summary when they come before the agency's governing board for final action.  However, the terms of contracts with successful applicants are a public record. Sphere: Related Content