Fifty non-profits and nine companies have applied for the up to 20 disease-specific planning awards offered by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. These are small potatoes, intended to support six months of proposal development for the CIRM disease team research awards, multi-year grants for multidisciplinary teams, but the grants will take just as long to award. Recommendations will be made by the Grants Working Group in April, with decisions by the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee making the final decision in June. In January, ten companies and 56 teams from university sent letters saying that they intended to apply for these smaller $55,000 grants, according to a story by Terri Somers. Receiving one of these planning grants is not a prerequisite for submitting an application for the bigger grants, though the applications for these should be issued shortly after the planning cycle.
The notion of creating disease-specific teams was first put forth by former chief scientific officer Arlene Chiu, who was brought in by the now-departed president Zach Hall. Though I did not see any amounts listed for the bigger awards, current president Alan Trounson shows support for this idea and the bigger grants. The press release quotes him as saying, “A key objective of the subsequent Disease Team Research Award will be for teams to produce an approvable regulatory filing enabling human clinical testing within four years after the award.” CIRM’s scientific strategic plan written in 2006 projects spending $122 million on disease teams and $60 million on interdisciplinary teams over ten years, though presumably work by researchers funded under these plans would also be eligible for other funding categories.
CIRM says that funding companies necessary because companies traditionally move science into medicine. Companies that receive CIRM funding to make high-revenue products will be required to give some of this revenue back to the state, and CIRM argues that this investment will yield high returns. In one of our commentaries, Stanford’s Michael Longaker provides a case study of how that might work and how return on investment can be assessed.