The Niche

CIRM training grants approved, but awards uncertain in financial climate

The governing board for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine announced that it had decided to award $58 million to 26 grants for training stem-cell scientists and lab technicians. Delivery of these funds will have to wait, however, because California is unable to sell bonds on the public market. CIRM board members are even discussing raising funds through the private bond market. (See the press release as well as the story from the San Diego Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle )

Currently, CIRM can pay all existing funding commitments through September 2009, according to the press release from the agency. However, funds will be delayed for Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Research Training Program II grants until CIRM board members feel more certain about future financing.

The irony about President Obama’s election is that even if the financial crisis is stemmed, scientists studying pluripotent stem cells (both reprogrammed and embryonic) may soon feel like they have less money rather than more. If the NIH budget does not increase, but interest in stem cells continues to, expect more scientists to be chasing the same amount of money and the already low, low funding rate to go down. Meanwhile, the ability and incentives for donors to put up funds for stem-cell research will decrease. After the San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial praising the agency , one of the first reader comments demanded that the state find a way to get the funds back.

For more on CIRM’s financial troubles, one of several pieces on CIRM’s financial woes on the California Stem Cell Report includes a powerpoint presentation from the agency.

Meanwhile, trouble getting expected funds from donors and banks may derail plans for CIRM’s huge facilities grants. A piece in the San Diego Tribune says that plans have stalled to build new lab facilities by a San Diego consortium as well as the Buck Institute for Aging in the San Francisco Bay Area and the University of California Santa Barbara. (Indeed, the Buck first reported potential problems last October.)

CIRM leadership was especially proud of the leverage these facilities grants required: an institution was more likely to get CIRM funds if it promised to raise more funds from outside sources. In fact, the ability to raise outside funds was even a requirement for submitting a grant. With those outside sources balking, it’s unclear what will happen to these grants if the institutions fail to meet their obligations to break ground.


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