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.