State stem cell institute slows its pace of funding

Robert Klein

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine voted March 12 to defer funding its most recent round of 15 training grants—including a $3.9 million award to Stanford—for one year. The delay will give the institute the breathing room necessary to do a private placement of bonds in an effort to shore up its financial situation. Without any additional influx of funds, the institute will run out of money by the end of 2009.

"It's disappointing to hear that our funding will be delayed," said Michael Longaker, MD, deputy director of Stanford's Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute and principal investigator of the CIRM-approved grant. "However, we certainly understand that these are difficult economic times." According to Longaker, Stanford's ongoing training program in stem cell research, launched by one of the first CIRM grants in 2006, has sufficient funds to carry it through March 2010.

The board did vote, however, to disburse funds for the 11 Bridges to Stem Cell Research Awards that were approved in January. The $17.5 million outlay is essential, said CIRM president Alan Trounson, because those programs have no other source of funding. They must begin implementation now to be ready for the 2009-10 academic year.

"The Bridges grants are critically important to the future of regenerative medicine in California," said Trounson. "Without personnel trained to carry out this research the field won't move as quickly as we would like." The Bridges program pairs established stem cell research centers such as Stanford with less-specialized, non-core institutions to facilitate comprehensive lecture and laboratory courses, internship placement and mentoring of undergraduate and master-level students.

Since its January meeting, CIRM has received approval to privately place $400 million in bonds. "We're raising funds that wouldn't otherwise be available to the state," said Robert Klein, chair of the institute's governing body. "We're bringing new funds into the system to address our need to find therapies for patients without detracting from other state needs."

Furthermore, according to Klein, CIRM's activities are an overall financial benefit to the state. "Our major facilities projects alone are projected to provide $100 million in new tax income by 2010," he said. "In terms of cash flow, we benefit the state."