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Stem Cell Agency To OK New Approach

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine this week took another step toward implementing a new approach to stem cell work in California over the next five years. The move is expected to become official with a board vote later this month.

CIRM’s new strategic plan is designed to fast-track grant proposals (from an average of 22 months to a target of just over three months) and to shift funding toward projects that bring stem cell therapies to fruition, rather than focusing more on basic research.

The five-year plan likely will be the culmination of CIRM’s lifespan, started when California voters approved Proposition 71 in 2004. That initiative set aside $3 billion to help stem cell researchers develop therapies for various conditions.

Funding is due to end at CIRM in 2020.

The agency first moved in its new direction in January 2015 with the announcement of CIRM 2.0, which promised “a radical overhaul of the way we do business, one that introduces more efficient systems and programs and that places added emphasis on speed, partnerships and patients.”

The strategic plan is still in draft form, approved by the science subcommittee at CIRM on Nov. 30 and due to go before the board of directors for a vote Dec. 17.

“It’s an ambitious plan, but you never achieve anything worthwhile by playing it safe,” said Sherry Lansing, a CIRM board member, in a written statement. “Too many lives are at stake for us to do anything less than work as hard as we can, as long as we can, to achieve as much as we can.”

Jonathan Thomas is chair of CIRM’s board and an enthusiastic supporter of the new direction.

“This strategic plan is the product of months of work. It began with us throwing out all our preconceived notions of what we do, and instead focused on what was possible with the time and money we have left,” Thomas said in a written statement. “I think the result is something dramatically different than any strategic plan I have ever seen.”

This year, CIRM approved funding of one clinical trial to target glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor that afflicts about a thousand more people in California every year. For those people, beyond increased survival rates and improved quality of life, the new therapy potentially could be a cure. It also approved a Phase III clinical trial for metastatic melanoma.

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