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CIRM funds $61 million through Disease Team awards

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reflecting the progress being made in moving the most promising therapies out of the lab and into clinical trials, the state stem cell agency the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has approved $61 million in funding for its third round of Disease Team awards. The funding was approved by the stem cell agency’s governing board, the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee (ICOC).

This round of awards targets diseases including leukemia and other solid tumor cancers, such as breast and prostate, that have not responded to conventional treatment. Other diseases targeted include sickle cell disease and macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly.

“The goal of the Disease Team award is to help accelerate the development of new therapies,” said Alan Trounson, Ph.D., president of the agency. “I think this is the sharp end of the CIRM program—we need to get therapies into clinical trials. The scientists are working together as teams to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of their products that have evolved from discoveries in the laboratory. What’s impressive about this series of awards is that five of the six successful applications are for the continuation of work we previously had funded. It’s a reflection of the importance of continuity of funding, enabling scientists to keep their teams together and move their work forward as quickly as possible.”

The Disease Team awards are designed to encourage multidisciplinary teams of researchers from academic institutions, medical centers and industry to work together and develop new treatments for a broad range of therapies. The recipients were selected from 14 applications, all of which were reviewed by an independent group of internationally renowned scientists.

“Three of these successful studies arose as collaborations between California scientists and those in other countries four years ago,” said Trounson. “Funding agencies in Canada and the U.K. supported work in those countries, and CIRM funded the teams in California. This international teamwork has been crucial to the projects’ success.”

“I think this round of funding speaks volumes for the quality of the work we support,” said Jonathan Thomas, Ph.D., J.D., chairman of the board. “Many of these projects are ones we have previously funded, so to have our outside expert reviewers look at them and recommend continued investment in this research shows we are on the right path.”

The board also discussed the recommendations of the president’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), presented at the last ICOC meeting in October. The SAB was composed of experts in the scientific, clinical, ethical, industry and regulatory aspects of stem cell biology to give the president advice and suggestions on strategic priorities for future research and how best to allocate existing funds.

The board decided to create an accelerated development pathway, putting aside $200 million in a strategic reserve, to be used in helping select projects already funded by the agency speed up their development and move them through the clinical trial approval process as quickly and safely as possible. The money would be used for research that is already in or close to a clinical trial but needs additional funds to get through a phase II trial to prove the therapy is both safe and effective.

The board voted to discontinue further funding for the Shared Laboratories award, to continue funding for the Early Translation program and to continue funding at a reduced level the Basic Research program. The board also asked staff to provide them with a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of the training grants, bridges and creativity programs, to determine if they wanted to continue funding them.

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