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UCLA Takes Four of 13 Awards Today; One Business Wins

Posted: September 1, 2013 at 2:49 am

The California stem cell agency has
made it official, sending out its press release on the $41 million in grants
approved today for institutions throughout the state. 

Most of the 13 awards, as usual, went to organizations represented on the governing board of
the agency. Individual board members, however, are barred from voting on specific grants
to their organizations. 
UCLA topped the list with four grants. No other
institution received more than one, including only one business, Numerate, Inc., of San Bruno,
via John
, the firm's chief scientific officer. The lack of awards
to businesses has long been a sore subject in the biotech community. 
The only news story so far was written by Bradley Fikes of the San Diego U-T, which circulates in an area that is a hotbed of biotech research. Institutions there snagged $12.6 million in four grants. Fikes also
identified one of the five researchers who lost their appeals on negative grant
review decisions. He is Evan
 leader of stem cell research at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research
 in La Jolla, who
had a $5 million request before the agency.

The agency's press release can be found here with more information on the proposed research here.  


Tracking the Fruits of California Stem Cell Agency Research

Posted: at 2:49 am

The California stem
cell agency yesterday shed some interesting light on the awards in its $41
million round this week and their pathway to actually producing a product that
can be used to treat persons who are suffering from diseases.

It is a difficult and
long journey to generate usable therapies, a process poorly understood by the
public, which was promised in 2004 that the stem cell agency would produce
cures for ailments afflicting half the population of the state.

Writing on the agency’s blog, Amy Adams, CIRM communications manager, dealt with the issue indirectly.
She said,

“Many scientists who
receive our early translation awards first got their idea for a therapy while
carrying out research with one of our other awards. In fact, eight of the
scientists in this round of funding had previous CIRM funding for an earlier
stage of research. If a scientist's early translation award provides good
results, the scientists are then able to apply for one of our disease team
awards, which fund the effort of compiling data to convince the Food and Drug
to allow them to test it in people.  Other organizations
fund only early discovery research or only preclinical research. Under those
conditions, researchers continually pause their projects to look for new
sources of funding as the project moves through the phases toward clinical

One of the virtues of
the California stem cell agency is its promise of a continued stream of
funding. Former Chairman Robert Klein used to tout that particular aspect of
the agency, particularly in light of limited federal resources.

Adams’ comments
implicitly raise important questions concerning CIRM’s entire portfolio. How
many CIRM grants have led to additional funding from CIRM? How many are
basically one-off shots that have not led to research that has advanced the
development of stem cell therapies, either via CIRM or other funding. What is the
therapeutic and scientific significance of the research that is linked by more
than one CIRM award?  What previously
funded CIRM research could be fruitfully funded again to advance the science
and not necessarily through the traditional grant rounds, which sometimes have
awkward timing?

Unmentioned in Adams’
item is an application from a UC Irvine researcher that came up at Wednesday’s
meeting of the governing board of the stem cell agency. The woman, whose name
was not clearly audible on the Internet audiocast, publicly appealed rejection
of her application by reviewers. She noted that it was an extension of work
that was previously funded by the agency. She also noted that the score on her
review was all but identical to work that was funded. The board, however,
turned her appeal aside, which had already been rejected behind closed doors by
CIRM staff.

Hers is not the only
such case in CIRM history. But they are virtually impossible to track systematically
because of the structure of the CIRM grant-making progress. It is also not
clear whether the agency itself is tracking its research awards to determine if
they result in continuing, fruitful research in a specific area. Nonetheless,
the matter deserves some public attention. 


$41 Million in California Stem Cell Grants Virtually Approved

Posted: at 2:49 am

Directors of the California stem cell agency today all but approved about $41 million in early translational grants, rejecting all appeals by applicants and accepting staff recommendations on marginal grants.

The roll call vote was held open this morning to record a vote by one board member who was not present at the time. It is virtually certain that the member will vote in favor of affirmative action on the applications in question.

One member of the board, Joan Samuelson, abstained from voting on any of the applications. She said she did not think the board had adequate information on its total grant portfolio, particularly in view of the declining amount of money available.

The agency has about $600 million in uncommitted funds and is scheduled to run out of cash for new grants in 2017.

The research acted on today is aimed at “proof of concept for development of a therapy candidate and/or studies to select a development candidate. The approved grants can be found on this CIRM website page and are listed in tier one and tier two.  Identities of the applicants are withheld by CIRM to avoid embarrassing rejected candidates and to avoid disclosing the names of applicants to board members before they vote. However, applicants often appear before the board, as they did today, and identify themselves.

Five applicants appealed negative decisions on their applications by grant reviewers. The agency declined to disclose the appeal letters or identify the applicants, information that was a public record under the previous appeal procedures. New processes were put in place this spring that moved the appeals behind closed doors and made them subject to staff instead of board review. Nonetheless, rejected researchers have a legal right to address the board on appeals or any other matters.

At the request of the California Stem Cell Report, the agency provided the numbers of the grants on which appeals were filed. They are: 06787, 06888, 06761, 06793 and 06830. Review summaries on the applications can be found here. 

We have asked the agency to provide its legal and policy justification for now withholding information that was once a public record.


UCLA Snags $3.6 Million from California Stem Cell Agency

Posted: at 2:49 am

UCLA scored today with at least two grants, totaling $3.6 million, from the California stem cell agency. 

Seeking the cash were Donald Kohn,  application 6823, and Gerald Lipshutz, application 6831. Both of the  grants are for $1.8 million each. 

Their applications were initially in the agency's tier two category, which means that CIRM's reviewers did not approve them outright for funding.  CIRM staff, however, did under a new procedure, and the agency's governing ratified the recommendation. 

Lipshutz also appeared before the board along with several patient advocates who made emotional appeals for funding. Lipshutz's research deals with urea cycle disorders, which occur in one out of 8,200 births. Current treatment is arduous and can involve liver transplants.  

Kohn's research deals with sickle cell disease, which afflicts primarily African-Americans. His efforts are aimed at correcting the sickle gene defect in the blood stem cells before transplanting them back into the patient.


Stem Cell Agency Seeks Stronger Ties with Possible Industry Funding Partners

Posted: at 2:49 am

The California stem cell agency today triggered a new program aimed at recruiting major biotech and venture capital firms to assist in providing tens of millions of dollars for research by California enterprises.

The effort, part of an $80 million business-friendly initiative, was approved by the agency's governing board on a voice vote.

Participating companies will have a special relationship with the state agency, according to a staff document. The "industry collaborators" will have early input into concept funding proposals prior to their presentation to the agency's governing board. The companies will also be able to attend agency workshops and meetings involving hundreds of grant recipients. 
Other aspects of the proposal call for special event-hosting arrangements aimed at creating more collaborations along with posting of information from the selected collaborators on the CIRM website.


Skin in California’s Stem Cell Game

Posted: at 2:49 am

The California stem cell agency’s road map to its
financial future makes a big, $200 million assumption.

The amount would be the agency’s skin in the game for a new,
public-private partnership to continue with the agency’s work after 2017, when
its cash basically runs out.

The $200 million figure is contained in the
assumptions for development of the proposed partnership, which is now in the very early stages of being crafted by a Marin County consultant, James Gollub.
He was told that whatever he comes up with can assume a onetime, $50 million to
$200 million public contribution.

The sixty-four-dollar question – to use a term from
the 1940s -- is how to raise that sort of cash. Consider two unappetizing possibilities.
The 29 members of the agency’s governing board could go to Sacramento and ask
lawmakers and the governor to give them the money, a prospect that most of them
would not relish. Such a move would open the door to tinkering or more with the
agency’s structure and operations.  Or
the board could seek more bond financing via a statewide election, requiring an
electoral campaign that would cost many millions to mount. In both cases, there
is no guarantee that funds would be forthcoming. Money is still tight in
California government, and voters may not fancy spending more on stem cell
research, especially if the agency has not delivered on the promises of the
2004 ballot campaign that created the $3 billion program.

A third possibility, however, exists, but it also could
be difficult considering pressures to spend all that the agency has. The
board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency
is formally known, has about $600 million in uncommitted cash. It could take
$200 million off the table and reserve it as seed money for whatever future
plans would involve. Or the board could simply roll back commitments it has
made for lower priority grant rounds – ones that have not yet been initiated.
Some are in concept stages, and others have not yet been posted as RFAs.

Scrimping on existing efforts is not going to suit
the condition of all board members. The question of priorities on spending came
up last month in connection with the agency’s generous, $69 million researcher
recruitment effort that benefits many institutions represented on the agency’s
board. Jeff Sheehy, who is a patient advocate member of the board but also a
communications manager at UC San Francisco, and others bridled at adding more money to the
recruitment program. Sheehy cited scarcity of funds and said it was a “distraction”
from more important efforts. His view, however, did not prevail.
Today the board is scheduled to act on a grant round that is budgeted for $70 million. However, grant reviewers have approved grants
totaling only $37 million. Board members, if they wish, could indicate that the
surplus $33 million be designated as a down payment on the future of the agency
– an organization in which they take great pride.


Stem Cell Agency Pays Tribute to the Late Duane Roth

Posted: at 2:49 am

The governing board of the California stem cell agency today paid tribute to the late Duane Roth, co- vice chairman of the agency, who died recently as the result of a bicycle accident.

With members of Roth's family present, CIRM Chairman J.T. Thomas characterized Roth, 63, as a "voice of reason" on the 29-member board. The video included testimonials from both staff and board members.

He was described as a "kind person" who could find "common ground" on difficult issues. Roth was deeply involved in San Diego affairs that went well beyond the stem cell agency. More than 1,000 persons attended memorial services for Roth earlier this month in San Diego.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said following the video that he will "miss (Roth) terribly" and expressed  "hope that his memory will lighten and brighten the day for all of us."

Jeanne Loring, a stem cell researcher at Scripps, said Roth "inspired us to do more than we thought we could do." She said he was an unusual kind of businessman who respected science.  "I wish I could thank him one more time," she said.Source:

California Stem Cell Researchers to Receive $70 Million Next Week

Posted: August 25, 2013 at 2:52 am

The California stem cell agency is
scheduled to give away $70 million next week as it moves forward on
its efforts to turn research into cures.
The awards will be for efforts that will result in proof of concept for development of a therapy candidate and/or studies to select a development candidate.
As many as 20 grants and loans are
projected to be awarded in the early translation round. The awards will range up to $3.5 million over a three year period.  The round was open to
both businesses and academic institutions. Collaborators from Germany
were involved, although funding for research in that country is not provided by the state stem cell agency.
The applications will come before
the $3 billion agency's governing board at its Aug. 28 meeting in La Jolla. After next week's awards, the agency, which is known as CIRM,  will have about $500
million left to hand out before cash for new awards runs out in 2017.
The agency is currently examining ways to continue its awards with
some sort of public-private partnership.
Also on the board's agenda is a
proposed announcement for a CIRM/industry co-funding agreement. No
further details on that program were available early today on the agenda.
Other matters to be considered include final approval of the changes
in the agency's IP regulations, appointment of new members to the
grant review group and the latest report on the outside contracts
held by the agency. Details on those matters are yet to be posted by
the agency.
A tribute to the late Duane Roth,
co-vice chairman of the agency, is also scheduled. The board will
additionally meet behind closed doors to evaluate the performance of
CIRM President Alan Trounson.
The California Stem Cell Report will
carry more information on the meeting as it becomes available.
In addition to the La Jolla location
for the meeting, other locations where the public can take part in
the meeting are in Menlo Park and Duarte. Specific addresses can be
found on the agenda.


Flim-Flam Stem Cell Artists Targeted by CIRM

Posted: at 2:52 am

The California stem cell agency has
joined with other prestigious stem cell organizations to help put a
stop to the flim-flam artists that prey on desperate people by
promising miracle cures from stem cell treatments.
The agency announced the action today on its blog, declaring that it has posted a new patient advisory document that provides a “ robust and detailed set of issues
patients should consider when making treatment decisions.”
Don Gibbons, CIRM's senior science and
education communications officer and author of the blog item, said
the document addresses one of his special concerns: Internet “ads
that come up on web searches and seem to be offering everything to
Some of those ads can be found on many stem cell-related web sites, including this one, that carry ads that are placed there
automatically by Google.


California Stem Cell Agency Spending: Where the Money Is Going

Posted: at 2:52 am

Analysis of CIRM funding by Pat Olson, executive director of CIRM scientific activities July 2013
The California stem cell agency will
have committed $472 million to translational research – a key to
commercializing stem cell therapies – if it awards the full $70
million in new grants and loans slated to come before its governing
board next week.
The nearly $500 million will amount to
about 17 percent of its funding so far, according to an analysis last
month by Pat Olson, the agency's executive director of scientific activities. The
largest percentage of the agency's cash, however, will be going for
“development” – 35 percent or $970 million. Olson defined
“development” as “essentially our IND enabling, our
preclinical development programs and our clinical development
Basic research is to receive 17 percent
or about $469 million with buildings and facilities taking up $443
million or 16 percent. Training and career development has consumed
about 15 percent or $414 million.
However, those calculations include
$577 million in funds that have been allocated but not yet awarded.
Another $491 million is “concept approved” but also not awarded.
The agency's governing board could change those allocations or
withdraw approval of concepts, although it has not yet shown signs
that it might do so.
The agency will run out of money for
new grants in 2017 and is examining the possibility of generating
more cash through some sort of public-private partnership. To develop
support for continued funding, the agency is under pressure to
generate results that will resonate with the public and potential
private funding sources. Those results are most likely to come from
a late stage translational/clinical trial effort.
Here is a link to CIRM's translational portfolio as of September 2012.

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that the agency would run out of money for new grants in 2013. The correct year is 2017,.)


A $2 Million Bill: Outside Contracting by California Stem Cell Agency

Posted: at 2:52 am

The $3 billion California stem cell
agency this week posted a list of its outside contractors, who range
from a a $25,000 stem cell licensing consultant to a $550,000-a-year law firm.
The agency expects to spend $2
million during 2013-14 on outside contracting, down from $2.9 million
in 2012-13. This week's report covers the 2012-13 year.
Outside contracting is the second
largest item in the agency's budget, which is slated to spend $17.4
million this fiscal year for operational expenses, up 5 percent
from last year's spending. The largest amount, $12.2 million, goes
for salaries and benefits. (For more on the budget, see here, here
and here.)
Topping the contractor list is the law
firm of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., which had
the $550,000 contract. CIRM, as the agency is known, reported that Remcho came in under
budget by $95,595. That contrasts to some previous years when the
firm, which has represented the stem cell agency since its inception,
required additional cash on top of its original contract. James
of the Remcho firm is its face at the agency and is
designated as the outside counsel to the agency's governing board. In
all, the agency is slated to spend $2.2 million on legal expenses,
including in-house work.
David Earp is the stem cell licensing
contractor. He was paid only $13,125 on his $25,000 contract during
2012-13. It is unclear whether he will be paid the $11,875 balance.
Earp was chief patent counsel and senior vice president for business
development for Geron before it dropped its stem cell program. Earp was heavily involved in the $25 million loan that CIRM made to Geron in 2011. In
February 2008, he testified before CIRM about its then proposed loan
The list of contractors included
$200,000 to the AlphaMed Press of Durham, N.C., as seed funding for a
stem cells translational journal, $156,434 to Hyatt Hotels for the
meeting of CIRM grant recipients, $250,000 to Kutir Corp. of Newark, Ca., for
informational technology services and $290,000 to the Mitchell
of Woodland Hills, Ca.also for information technology services.
The list of contractors will be
presented to the CIRM governing board at its meeting next week. The
list does not usually trigger any significant discussion.


New Ties to Big Pharma and Venture Capital Proposed at California Stem Cell Agency

Posted: at 2:52 am

The $3 billion California stem cell
agency wants to recruit major biotech and venture capital firms to
help provide tens of millions of dollars in research awards to
California enterprises.
It's part of a move to “jump start”
partnerships in a relatively new, $80 million, business-friendly program that is aimed at pushing therapies into the
marketplace. The recruitment plan will come before the agency's governing board at its meeting next Wednesday in San Diego. 
Participating companies will have a
special relationship with the state agency, including early input
into concept funding proposals prior to their being presented to the
agency's governing board. The “industry collaborators” will also
be able to attend agency workshops and meetings involving
hundreds of grant recipients. Presumably other, non-collaborating
firms would be barred.
Other provisions of the plan call for
special event-hosting arrangements aimed at creating more
collaborations and posting of information from the selected
collaborators on the CIRM website.
According to a CIRM staff document, the
initiative would be limited to biotech and pharmaceutical firms with
a market capitalization of at least $500 million and “qualified
venture capital firms.” The document did not define what a
“qualified a venture capital firm” is. The document also appeared
to bar participation of privately held firms because of the “market
capitalization” criteria, which typically uses a formula involving
publicly traded shares.
Elona Baum, the agency's general
counsel and vice president, business development, said in a statement
provided to the California Stem Cell Report,

“This is aimed at trying to jump
start the creation of the partnerships that are required to satisfy
the commercial validation requirements of the Strategic Partnership
Funding Initiative so that timelines are better synced-up as between
our review and approval cycles for the Strategic Partnership RFAs and
the lengthy time required for investors to conduct due diligence and
negotiate an agreement with prospective applicants to Strategic
Partnership RFAs.  CIRM's independent review and approval
remains the same and is wholly independent. While there may be input
given to a particular RFA it only at the high level concept stage and
of course CIRM has no obligation to agree. In the context of the
Strategic Partnership awards, CIRM wants to fund innovative high
quality science that has attracted additional  investors.
 Investors will help leverage CIRM fund and will be an important
source of future funding to further the project.”  


California Stem Cell Agency’s $150,000 Search for Its Financial Future

Posted: at 2:52 am

A San Francisco consultant, who is
often known as an “economic therapist,” has been selected to
devise a “strategic road map” for the financial future of the $3
billion California stem cell agency.
James Gollub: 'economic therapist'
Gollub Associates photo
James Gollub, managing director of the
firm bearing his name, is under a $150,000 contract to lay out by
this fall a detailed plan for the agency. The nine-year-old research
effort is scheduled to run out of money for new awards in 2017.
Gollub was selected after the agency
posted a request for proposals (RFP) last spring. The RFP assumed an
additional $50 million to $200 million in a onetime “public
investment.” The RFP also assumed additional private funding of a
yet-to-be-determined nature.
Gollub is described as a co-founder of the field of cluster-based economic development. One web site said he
is known as an “economic therapist.” The website for his current firm says,

“A leading expert in innovation
bridge building....
“Global experience assisting
universities, institutes, government agencies and public-private
partnerships link innovation sources to innovation
“Committed to the goal of increasing flow of needed
solutions, optimizing financial returns and sustainable economic
impacts from innovation.”

Gollub's current firm dates back to
March of this year. His Linked In profile says,

James Gollub Associates
(JGA) LLC was launched to build on 36 years of Gollub’s
professional research and consulting experience. That experience
began with 16 years at SRI International, three years at
DRI/McGraw-Hill, five years at IDeA, nine years at ICF International
and three years with E-Cubed Ventures LLC. During that
time Gollub has worked globally to deliver
economic strategies for over 30 national, state and metropolitan
regions, develop strategies to accelerate growth of new industries
(clusters), plan public and private R&D institutes and advise on
over 15 science and technology parks.”

The need for a financial transition plan for CIRM was publicly identified as long ago as 2009 by the Little Hoover Commission in its lengthy study and has been reiterated periodically by other bodies since then. Under the terms of Prop. 71, which created the agency, CIRM has only  a 10-year authority to issue state bonds, the borrowed funds that have sustained the research effort. Legal maneuvering blocked the issuance of bonds until 2007.

The California Stem Cell Report asked
the stem cell agency on May 31 for a copy of Gollub's response to the
RFP. Yesterday we asked for a copy of the contract with Gollub. Those
documents will be published when they are received.

‘Butter and Eggs Money" and a Gubernatorial Veto

Posted: August 18, 2013 at 2:54 am

, professor of medical anthropology at UC Berkeley and
director of Organ
, is one of the opponents of the legislation that would have
permitted women to sell their eggs for research. Today she filed the
following comment on the “troubling mindset” item on the
California Stem Cell Report.

Jerry Brown's
veto of AB
which would allow young women to be paid for multiple egg extractions
for scientific research is one for the gals.  In western Ireland
women secreted away their
and eggs
money in anticipation of hard times. In my day every smart girl had
her 'mad money' to escape a bad situation. Secret cash for young
women is a great idea, but not when it turns on multiple cycles of
pumping powerful hormones associated (in other contexts) with ovarian
cancer into young women's bodies to produce 30 or 60 eggs a month.
That's not promoting gender equity no matter what some of our best
Democratic women leaders have to say. Selling sperm and selling eggs
are a totally different matter. One  is pleasurable and safe,
the other is a complicated and invasive procedure. We need good
science and good research and  freedom of choice and action. We
also need protection from false advertising. There are no
evidence based, long term studies of the effects of these hormone
injections on women ten or twenty years after the fact. Let's fund
those needed longitudinal and cohort studies and hope for the best.
In the meantime, women had best stick to 'butter and eggs' money. It
doesn't pay a lot, but it's less painful and a heck of a lot safer.


California Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes Pay-for-Eggs Legislation

Posted: at 2:54 am

California Gov. Jerry Brown today
vetoed a fertility industry-backed measure that would have permitted
women to sell their eggs for the purposes of scientific research.
In his veto message, Brown said,

“Not everything in life is for sale
nor should it be.”

The bill would have repealed a ban on
compensation of women who provide their eggs for scientific purposes.
The measure would not have changed existing law that allows women to
be paid for their eggs for IVF purposes with fees that range up to
$50,000. The bill also would not have affected the ban on compensation for
eggs for research that is financed by the $3 billion California stem
cell agency.
The legislation (AB926) by
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was sponsored by the American
Society for Reproductive Medicine
and easily swept through the Democratic-dominated legislature. Bonilla said the measure would have placed women on an
equal footing with men, who are paid for their sperm contributions
for research. She also said that it would help to encourage more
research into fertility issues.
Some stem cell scientists have
complained that not enough women are willing to donate eggs without
compensation, but stem cell researchers were not publicly involved in
supporting the bill.
The fertility industry group had
confidently predicted that Brown, a Democrat like Bonilla, would sign the bill. The governor's
action could be overridden by a 2/3 vote of each house of the
Legislature. It is not clear whether Bonilla will make such an
Here is the text of Brown's veto

"Not everything in life is for sale
nor should it be.

"This bill would legalize the payment of
money in exchange for a woman submitting to invasive procedures to
stimulate, extract and harvest her eggs for scientific research.

"The questions raised here are not
simple; they touch matters that are both personal and philosophical.

"In medical procedures of this kind,
genuinely informed consent is difficult because the long-term risks
are not adequately known. Putting thousands of dollars on the table
only compounds the problem.

"Six years ago the Legislature, by
near unanimity, enacted the prohibition that this bill now seeks to
reverse. After careful review of the materials which both supporters
and opponents submitted, I do not find sufficient reason to change

"I am returning this bill without my

You can read more about the bill and
its history here, here, here and here.


Bonilla: Veto of Pay-for-Eggs Bill Shows Troubling Mindset

Posted: at 2:54 am

A Democratic state legislator today
assailed Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's “mindset” as “particularly
troubling” in his veto of legislation that would have allowed women
to sell their eggs for scientific research.
The statement came from Assemblywoman
Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, in response to Brown's action on her
fertility-industry sponsored bill, AB926, which would have removed a
ban on compensation for women who provide eggs for research.
Susan Bonilla
Photo from California Legislature
Brown cited health risks and other issues and said in his veto message,

“Not everything in life is for sale
nor should it be.”

Alex Matthews, writing on Capitol
quoted Bonilla as saying,

“It (the governor's veto) shows a
glaring inconsistency...The veto statement was very overreaching in
the fact that it was making very broad statements about what women
should be able to do, and while it's not legislation it certainly
goes to a mindset that the governor has that I find particularly

Bonilla continued,

“Market-driven compensation of donors
by donor agencies and prospective parents continues unchecked.”

In a statement on her website, Bonilla
said the governor's veto “is a regressive action that denies
thousands of women the prospect of medical fertility breakthroughs.”
She said,

“Many women...will be denied hope and
the possibility of giving birth to a child because research on their
behalf has been halted in California.”

Bonilla has argued that women involved
in egg-related research, such as that involving stem cells, should
be compensated, just as men are for their sperm. Women who provide
eggs for fertility purposes can be legally compensated up to any
amount. The current market runs about $10,000 or so per egg cycle but can be much
Bonilla's measure would not have
affected a ban on compensation involving research funded by the $3
billion California stem cell agency. It would have taken a 70 percent
vote of each house to alter that restriction, compared to a simple
majority for Bonilla's bill. The super, super-majority requirement
was written into state law by Proposition 71, the measure that
created the stem cell agency.
Bonilla did not indicate whether she
would attempt to override the governor's veto, which would require a
2/3 vote of each house.
One of the opponents of the bill, the
Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, called the veto a
“welcome development.”
Diane Tober, associate executive
director of the center, said,

“It would be unconscionable to
expand the commercial market in women’s eggs without obtaining
significantly more information about the risks of retrieving them.” 

Here are links to other stories today
on the veto of the bill: Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, an
additional story from late yesterday on Capitol Weekly, TheAssociated Press and National Review.


A $6 Billion Question: Progress of the California Stem Cell Agency

Posted: at 2:54 am

The headlines march like legions across the
Internet and throughout the world.

“New type of stem cell helps your fingers regenerate”

“Stem cell technology can mass-produce cancer-killing cells to target tumours”

treatment restores sight to blind man

“Special stem cells could heal hearts”

But then there is this extraordinarily
rare headline that sounds a harshly different note:

“Stem cells: what happened to the radical breakthroughs?”

All these headlines go to address, in
one form or another, a request/question posed last month by an
anonymous reader of the California Stem Cell Report. The comment came
on an item about the California stem cell agency's $70 million plan
to establish a network of “Alpha” stem cell clinics in
The reader said,

“It would be nice to have an overall
update on how much as been spent on California's stem cell research
project and what progress has been made.”

On the surface, the answer is easy. The
agency has given away $1.8 billion. The agency says it has made
tremendous progress and expects to make even more with the about $600
million it has left. The prestigious Institute of Medicine has said the
agency has “achieved many notable results.”
However, no thorough, rigorous
evaluation has been made of the details of the agency's scientific
contributions, specific grant awards or its impact on the field of
regenerative medicine. No one has attempted to genuinely assess
whether the work of the agency is or will be worth the roughly $6
billion(including interest) that California taxpayers will have paid
for the agency's ambitious efforts.
Then there is the question of “progress
towards what?” Is the progress to be measured against the promises
of the 2004 ballot campaign that resulted in creation of the stem
cell agency or more modest goals that eschew the hype of the
The stem cell agency is burdened in a way that most science is not. The 2004 campaign
created a sort of contract with voters. They were led to
believe nine years ago that the cures for diseases that the campaign said afflict nearly
one-half of all California families were, in fact, right around the corner. Few,
if any California stem cell researchers were publicly warning that a
hard and long, long slog remained before therapies reached patients.
Last week, however, Simon Roach of the
British newspapers, The Guardian and Observer, shed some light on the
early, rosy promises of stem cell science compared to the world as it exists
He wrote that in 1998,

“(B)iomedical engineer Professor
Michael Sefton declared that within 10 years, scientists would have
grown an entire heart, fit for transplant. 'We're shooting big,' he
said. 'Our vision is that we'll be able to pop out a damaged heart
and replace it as easily as you would replace a carburetor in a car.'

“Fifteen years on, however, we've had
some liver cells, eye cells, even a lab-grown
, but no whole human organs. We could be forgiven for
asking: where's our heart? It does seem strange that a field stoking
so much excitement could be so far off the mark. Speaking last week
about the vision that he and his colleagues outlined in 1998, Sefton
said they had been 'hopelessly naïve.' As time plodded on and an
understanding of the biological complexity increased, the task seemed
bigger and bigger. Even now, a cacophony of headlines later, we are
not much further ahead.

Chris Mason is a professor of
regenerative medicine at University College London and believes that
concentrating on organ regeneration is missing a trick. 'These organs
are immensely complex,' he said. 'They've got nerves, blood vessels,
in the case of the liver, a bile system – there are huge degrees of
complexity. These things take a long time to grow in humans, let
alone in the lab without all the natural cues that occur in the
growing embryo.'"

The final paragraph in Roach's article

“There's a tension in medical
research between the glory of the big discovery and the
assiduous commitment to real application. 'We're hoping the scope and
possibilities of this project will catch the public's imagination,'
Sefton concluded in 1998. It did, but perhaps the public's
imagination isn't always what science should be vying for.”

Little doubt exists that the California
stem cell agency has made a significant contribution to stem cell
science, although the size of that contribution – beyond dollars –
remains to be measured. For now, the key for the agency and the
public is to focus on activities that will generate the greatest value over the
next few years and advance the science that has already been financed
by the agency.
As the $700,000 Institute of Medicine
report said,

“The challenge of moving its research
programs closer to the clinic and California’s large biotechnology
sector is certainly on CIRM’s agenda, but substantial achievements
in this arena remain to be made.”


Duane Roth: Ecumenical Innovator for San Diego and Biotech

Posted: at 2:54 am

The Xconomy news service today carried
a sterling look at the contributions that Duane Roth, co-vice
chairman of the California stem cell agency, made before his untimely
death as the result of a bicycle accident.
Reporter Bruce Bigelow pulled together
a host of comments concerning Roth's involvement in the San Diego
community, ranging from biotech to action sports companies. The
headline on the piece read, “The Connector Who Wired up a Regional
Innovation Economy.”
At the time of his death at the age of
63, Roth was CEO of Connect, a nonprofit organization that supported
technology and innovation and one that he was credited with reviving.
Bigelow also wrote,

“Once California voters approved a
2004 ballot proposition that authorized the issuance of $3 billion in
grants for stem cell R&D, (Mary) Walshok (associate vice
chancellor for public programs at UC San Diego) said Roth also played
a key role in bringing together UCSD, Scripps, Salk, and
Sanford-Burnham to create the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative
. In fact, Walshok doubts whether anyone but Duane Roth could
have brought the four major research centers together.”

Another speaker at the memorial
services Friday attended by about 1,000 persons was Bill Walton, the
former UCLA and NBA great, who grew up in San Diego.
Bigelow wrote,

“Walton, the NBA Hall of Famer who
has led San Diego Sports Innovators as a division of Connect since
2010, said Roth became a business mentor to him. In his comments
Friday afternoon, Walton said Roth inspired him to be a better
person, and he counted Roth among the people who had the biggest
influence on his life—a list that included his own father, UCLA
coach John Wooden, sportscaster Chick Hearn, author David Halberstam,
and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.”

Bigelow described Roth as an ecumenical
and pragmatic advocate for innovation who could work with persons who
did not always agree with him on all issues. He was a conservative
and active Republican, but his co-vice chair at at the stem cell
agency, Art Torres, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, on
more than one occasion has lauded Roth's ability to work together.
Bigelow wrote about similar remarks
Friday by Don Rosenberg, an executive vice president and general
counsel at Qualcomm.

“'Duane and I were as different as
two people can be,' Rosenberg said during his eulogy at the Church of
the Immaculata
. 'Duane was born in Iowa, baptized in the Mennonite
church, a Republican. And me, raised in Brooklyn, Jewish, a Democrat.
We quickly learned we had more in common. We were kindred spirits. We
liked the same things: Bikes, biking, cars, and people.'”


Stem Cell Agency’s Duane Roth Eulogized at Memorial Services

Posted: at 2:54 am

An estimated 1,000 persons attended
services last week for Duane Roth, co-vice chairman of the California
stem cell agency, who died at the age of 63 following a bicycle
The San Diego U-T reported,

“A Who’s
Who of San Diego’s technology, business and civic community
gathered Friday to bid farewell to Duane Roth.
The biotech entrepreneur, community leader and director of Connect
died last weekend of injuries sustained in a cycling accident.

attendees were Gayle and former Gov. Pete
, who had just celebrated his upcoming 80th birthday
with former colleagues and friends in Sacramento, county
Supervisor Ron Roberts, former
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, Chamber
head Jerry Sanders, Preuss School
benefactors Peggy and Peter
, SDG&E CEO Jessie Knight,
and many biotech and high-tech leaders. These included Irwin
Ted Waitt and Denny


‘Paradigm Shift’ — Researchers as Patient Advocates?

Posted: at 2:54 am

It is not easy for a stem cell
scientist to break into “print” in that bastion of American
capitalism, Forbes magazine. Much less one from that perceived
antithesis of free enterprise, Reed College.
But researcher Paul Knoepfler of UC
has done just that.
John Farrell of Forbes wrote about Knoepfler on
Friday in the wake of the announcement Knoepfler will be honored with
a “national advocacy” award by the Genetics Policy Institute.
Paul Knoepfler -- Advocate for a "new ethos"
UC Davis photo
Knoepfler, who received a degree in
English literature from Reed in 1989, is being recognized for his
activities as a stem cell blogger since 2009.
Farrell quoted Knoepfler as saying in
an email,

“With many stumbles, face plants,
land mines, and even a few threats of litigation and career
retaliation along the way for the last three and half a years, I
turned my crazy idea into a reality.”

Farrell continued,

“But it was only possible,
(Knoepfler) added, with guidance from many patient advocates and
bloggers in other fields who generously helped him learn the ropes of

“'I see this award as a validation of
the notion that advocacy by scientists has become a valued part of
the stem cell field,' he said.

“'My hope is to catalyze a continuing
paradigm shift whereby stem cell scientists and biomedical scientists
more generally have a new ethos that not just accepts, but also
deeply values advocacy.'”


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