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$230 million cash boost aimed at driving stem cell therapies into the clinic

16 November 2009
Appeared in BioNews 534

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has awarded fourteen teams a total of $230 million for the advancement of stem  cell therapy. The CIRM was created as a measure by the Californian State to fund work on human embryonic stem cells (ES cells).Californian voters approved the 10-year, $3 billion effort in 2004 largely to get around restrictions on ES cell research imposed by the administration of  President George W Bush. This year, President Obama's administration relaxed these restrictions. However, only four of the fourteen awards made were for therapies using human ES cells. RobertN Klein, architect of  Proposition 71 (the ballot measure creating CIRM) and chair of  CIRM's governing board, said: 'Our commitment to the voters was that we would pursue the very best cell type for each disease based on the scientific and clinical evidence.'

The awards are made with the aim  of moving stem  cell therapy from  the research labs to patient testing within the next four years. It is estimated that the development timeline costs $800 million and would take seven years. However, CIRM  believes this estimate can be sped up by coordinating researchers from  the outset and setting milestones which must be met by the teams. The grants awarded are between $5 to $20 million or up to $40 million for therapies which receive international funding for therapies that, in some cases, are unlike any other which have previously received approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The projects were chosen by a committee of board members and outside experts from  among applications submitted by Californian institutions. Twelve of the 14 bodies which received funding are academic institutes and two are companies. Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), were the top recipients, with each getting funding for three projects. Stanford's grants totalled $51.7 million and UCLA will get $49.2 million.

Research is targetted at a range of diseases such as brain cancer,  a rare skin disorder,  stroke,  heart attack,  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), macular degeneration,  and sickle cell anaemia. The top-ranked project is a partnership of the City of Hope,  a non-profit treatment centre near Los Angeles, and Sangamo Biosciences, a Richmond, California-based biotechnology company. They received $14.6 million to work on replicating a reported cure for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in a patient last year. The patient also suffered from  leukaemia and received a bone marrow transplant. However, the donor of the bone marrow had a genetic makeup which was naturally resistant to HIV. It would be rare for a patient with AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) to find a donor match who is also resistant to HIV. The two teams aim  to take a patient's blood-forming stem  cells and inactivate a gene to make them  resistant to HIV, then put them  back in the body.

In addition to Californian state funds, Canada's Cancer Stem  Cell Consortium  will pay an additional $35 million for two of the grants that aim  to target cancer stem  cells, and the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council will award $8 million for two grants that aim  to treat macular degeneration and target leukaemia.

California Awards Grants for Research Projects in Nonembryonic Stem Cells
New York Times |  28 October 2009
California hands out $230 million to move stem cells into the clinic
Nature blogs |  28 October 2009
CIRM Awards Seek to Move Cell Therapies to the Clinic
Science |  6 November 2009
Stem Cell Therapies Aimed at Patient Trials Get $230 Million
Bloomberg |  28 October 2009
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