Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking a CEO: $3 Billion California Stem Cell Agency Faces Critical Leadership Challenges

California's 12-year-old stem cell research effort is expected to give away tens of millions of dollars in public this week, but its most important matters -- issues that deal with its survival and future -- likely will be discussed behind closed doors at a meeting Thursday of its governing board

On the table is the leadership of the $3 billion organization, which is scheduled to run out of cash in just three years, which amounts to a mere tick of the clock in the world of biomedical research. Beginning next week the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, will be minus its chief executive officer and its longtime counselor, who even predates the organization's actual creation in 2004.

CIRM directors are scheduled to meet Thursday at the San Francisco Marriott hotel in Burlingame, Ca., to confirm the appointment of Maria Millan, CIRM's vice president of therapeutics, as interim president of the agency. She will assume the duties of Randy Mills, who is leaving CIRM next week to head the National Marrow Donor Progam. 

Mills, who was paid $573,00 last year, also made it clear to the California Stem Cell Report in May that Millan is the appropriate person to take over the agency on a permanent basis after he leaves.

However, the decision is up to the 29-member board, which has scheduled an executive session Thursday to discuss the interim replacement for Mills. He joined the agency only three years ago but has left an impressive mark.

CIRM directors have also scheduled a July 17 meeting of their presidential search subcommittee to deal with the agency's leadership during what could be the last years of its life.

CIRM has a checkered record  in recruiting new presidents for a variety of reasons (see herehere and here). Some candidates have rejected offers. Other search efforts have been excessively prolonged.

Finding a new president from outside CIRM poses difficulties that would not have been in place, for example, five years ago. They include the tenuous future of CIRM along with the time needed for a normal executive search, plus the learning curve for a new CEO.

While CIRM is a small enterprise in some ways (less than 50 employees), it is an unusual mix of government, biotech business and academia, unlike any other state agency.  The combination has raised hurdles in the past.

The clock is running out fast at the agency. Any alterations in the plan put in place by Mills, Millan and company could slow its efforts to fulfill voter expectations that the agency would actually generate a widely available therapy. CIRM is helping to finance 27 current clinical trials, which are the last stages in research prior to a product reaching the market. The agency hopes to add 38 more trials over the next three years. But there are no guarantees that any will be successful.

Millan can step in and pick up the job relatively seamlessly.  Bringing in a CEO from outside could well take six months or more, including relocation. But serving as the head of  an organization that could be out of business in three years may not be appealing to many and could prolong recruitment.

If Millan is bypassed by the board, she may well leave the agency, triggering a cascade of departures as other CIRM employees also look to their own professional futures. An employee drain would hamper the agency's drive to come up with a commercial therapy.

James Harrison, the longtime counsel to the agency, is also leaving at the end of this week, returning to other pursuits at his private practice. Harrison has been a cornerstone of CIRM and has influence well beyond the not-so-simple legal matters involving the agency. He was also one of the authors of the 10,000-word ballot initiative that created the agency in 2004.

Scott Tocher, a longtime veteran of the agency, will replace Harrison. An announcement of the appointment is expected at the Thursday meeting.

Looming in the background is a gossamer plan for another ballot initiative to fund CIRM  beyond 2020. Bob Klein, a Palo Alto real estate investment banker who led the campaign that created CIRM, is talking about a $5 billion bond measure on the ballot as early as November of next year. Some political observers have predicted a less-than-warm-reception for such a proposal, given that the agency has yet to measure up to its 2004 campaign promises.

Another, rival proposal is being mentioned that would, in fact, move stem cell funding away from the agency.

One stem cell scientist, Paul Knoepfler of UC Davis, wrote last week about the agency's presidential search.

Commenting on his blog, Knoepfler said that CIRM directors should pick a "fantastic" person to replace Mills.  Knoepfler said the new president should have "strong leadership skills," a "big picture clinical vision" and "impeccable stem cell credentials," criteria that one could argue have not been met by most CIRM CEOs.

In the past, debate about presidential candidates centered on whether they should be stem cell stars or a leader who can execute an aggressive program that is already approved and in place. Given the current CIRM challenges, other criteria, such as speed and continuity, are also high.

The journal Nature this year said that the agency is in its "last stage." CIRM directors may well have that admonition on their minds as they consider fresh leadership for the program. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Guest Posting: "Stem Cell Options Should be on the Table"

(Editor's note: The following is a guest posting from Joseph Rodota and Bernard Munos, both of whom have been active in California policy matters for some time. More biographical information can be found at the end of the item. The California Stem Cell Report welcomes diverse, well-considered views on California stem cell issues. If you have something that you think should see the light of day, please send it to djensen@californiastemcellreport.com.)

By Joseph Rodota and Bernard Munos

The sponsors of Proposition 71, the 2004 initiative that provided $3 billion in bonds to support stem-cell research, are readying a proposal to keep the agency alive after the last of these funds have been given out. According to recent news reports, a new $5 billion bond could be on the California ballot as early as November 2018.

Researchers supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) have published hundreds of academic articles, but placed fewer than 30 drugs in clinical trials.

Even if all of these clinical trials resulted in drug candidates, they would still come up against the so-called “Valley of Death”—the well-documented shortage of funding for early-stage translational research.

California needs to move regenerative medicine from an academic timeline to a business timeline. The skills needed to turn an academic discovery into a commercial product are very different from the skills needed to be a successful academic scientist.

We proposed an alternative to continuing the current approach -- a state bond with three distinctive features:

A Focus on Entrepreneurs: Funds would be available only to companies, not academics (who would still be able to tap into billions in NIH funding for stem cell research);

A Focus on California: Only companies with a headquarters and a majority of employees in California, the nation’s center of overall innovation, or willing to relocate here; and

A Focus on Breakthrough Medicine: Only companies working on projects that have the potential to greatly impact patient health would qualify.

The University of California is well-qualified to administer this bond and report on its operations to the Legislature and the Governor, without the need for the cumbersome and controversial governance structure put in place by Proposition 71.

In exchange for the funds they receive, companies would tender to the University of California shares of their common stock, with an estimated value as determined by the most recent outside valuation or price set by investors. These shares would become part of the UC endowment -- and the University of California be free to sell or leverage these shares, or acquire additional shares, as it sees fit.

CIRM has over-invested in academic research, and under-invested in translating that research into therapies that cure diseases and prolong heathy lives. California needs to right that balance.

(Joe Rodota served as Cabinet Secretary to former California Governor Pete Wilson and director of policy for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 recall campaign. Munos is a senior fellow with FasterCures and the founder of the Innothink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation.).

Here is a summary of the bond proposal.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Reports 'Streak of Good News' on Asterias Spinal Therapy

Asterias video
California's $3 billion stem cell program today reported ongoing rosy results in a clinical trial involving a therapy for severe spinal cord injury.

The treatment is being developed Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc., of Fremont, Ca., with $14.3 million from the state research program, which is now in its 12th year.

The latest news was reported on The Stem Cellar, the agency's blog, and was based on a news release from Asterias, which is publicly traded. 

Todd Dubnicoff, the agency's multimedia editor, wrote the item which discussed nine-month results for the trial involving six patients paralyzed from the neck down. He said,
"In a nut shell, their improvements in arm, hand and finger movement seen at the earlier time points have persisted and even gotten better at 9 months."
Dubnicoff said that the level of improvement "can mean the difference between needing 24-hour a day home care versus dressing, feeding and bathing themselves."

He said,
"The impact of this level of improvement cannot be overstated. As mentioned in the press release, regaining these abilities, 'can result in lower healthcare costs, significant improvements in quality of life, increased ability to engage in activities of daily living, and increased independence.'"
In the Asterias press release, Edward Wirth, chief medical officer for the company, said,
“The new efficacy results show that previously reported meaningful improvements in arm, hand and finger function in the 10 million cell cohort treated with AST-OPC1 cells have been maintained and in some patients have been further enhanced even 9 months following dosing. We are increasingly encouraged by these continued positive results, which are remarkable compared with spontaneous recovery rates observed in a closely matched untreated patient population.”
The company also reported that no "serious adverse events" have surfaced that could be attributed to the therapy, which was initially developed  by Geron, Inc., which received $6.4 million from the stem cell agency. Geron abandoned the trial for financial reasons, and Asterias acquired the technology.

Aserias' stock price jumped nearly 13 percent today, hitting $3.55. Its 52 week high is $5.80 and its 52-week low is $2.30. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 27, 2017

California Stem Cell Report Going Dark for a Few Days

The California Stem Cell Report expects to be offline for perhaps the next five to seven days.

The moving home of this web site, the sailing vessel Hopalong, will be making a passage north from Mazatlan into the Sea of Cortez, formally known as the Gulf of California. We will not have access to cellular or Internet coverage during that time. Sphere: Related Content

A Longer Look at the Golden State's Stem Cell Research Efforts

Here is the overview of the California stem cell agency, published May 23, 2017, on Capitol Weekly and written by yours truly.
Sphere: Related Content

Full Text: The California Stem Cell Agency's Response on its Accomplishments

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 26, 2017

California's 'Great Ideas,' Stem Cell Awards Target Universal Blood Supply, Alzheimer's and Much More

The California stem cell agency this week awarded a total of $1.4 million to six scientists to jump start their work in what it calls its "great ideas" program.

The awards went for research ranging from creation of a universal blood supply with human stem cells to mitigating Alzheimer's disease, which has seen an increase of 55 percent in its death rate from 1999 to 2014, according to results of a new study released yesterday

The agency said in a press release that the "Inception" program  "provides seed funding for great ideas that have the potential to impact human stem cell research, but need some initial support. It’s hoped this will enable the researchers to test their ideas, and give them the data they need to compete for more substantial funding."

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the agency's governing board, said,
"This is a high risk, high reward program. We feel that a small investment now could produce enormous benefits later.”
The funding is small indeed. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM), as the agency is formally known, finances some clinical trials at $20 million a crack. The largest award in the "great ideas" program was $265,500.

The blood supply award was a reminder of another program that the agency used to entice star researchers to California. The blood grant went to Tannishtha Reya of UC San Diego. She came to California with her spouse, Robert Wechsler-Reya. He was lured by CIRM in 2010 with $5 million in funding to work at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla.. He has not received any further funding from the agency. This is the first CIRM award for Reya.

Another round of the Inception program is scheduled to open up in January 2018. Here is a link to the most recent request for applications. 

Here is a list of the winners with their application numbers. The summaries of reviewer comments on each application and their scores can be found here.  All of the institutions have ties to CIRM board members, who are not permitted to vote on applications involving their institutions. However, they can vote on creation of the research grant programs, establishment of their scope and rules.
DISC1-10074 Reprogramming human stem cells for blood cell generation T. Reya – U.C. San Diego $232,200

DISC1-10036 Prodrug innovation to target muscle stem cells and enhance muscle regeneration H. Blau – Stanford University $235,834

DISC1-10079 An exosome-based translational strategy to mitigate Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology J. Baulch – U.C. Irvine $179,911

DISC1-09912 A novel tissue engineering technique to repair degenerated retina B. Thomas – University of Southern California $215,133

DISC1-09999 Generation of expandable, self-renewing muscle stem cells for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy A. Sacco – Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
Letter to board

DISC1-09984 Hypo-immunogenic cardiac patches for myocardial regeneration S. Schrepfer – U.C. San Francisco
Letter to board

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Look at the California Stem Cell Agency: Its Origins, Its Accomplishments and Its Future

The Capitol Weekly online news and information service this afternoon posted a major overview of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The piece covered the agency's origins, recent high water marks and discussed its future. Here is the beginning of the freelance article by yours truly.
"C. Randal Mills, the 45-year-old CEO of California’s $3 billion stem cell research program, is a man who loves his milestones. 
"A private pilot, he charts his course in the air from one specific point to the next. Three years ago, Mills brought that same sort of navigation to the state stem cell agency. Miss one of the agency’s milestones, and — if you’re a stem cell scientist — you may not crash and burn, but you could lose millions of dollars in research funding from the state. 
"Mills has left an indelible stamp on the agency with his emphasis on concrete, measurable results. But he is resigning from the research program at the end of June in the midst of what some say is its “last stage.” His surprise departure to head the world’s largest bone marrow donor organization shocked many in California’s stem cell community. And it added to the unease about its future along with the future of possible stem cell therapies."  
(For those of you who read a brief item this morning about how this blog was going to go dark for a few days while it was on an ocean passage in the Sea of Cortez, we had a minor setback. Our floating home, the sailing vessel Hopalong, suffered a mechanical problem that we could not fix at sea, so we returned to port for repairs. The voyage begins anew tomorrow morning.) Sphere: Related Content

Major Overview of California Stem Cell Upcoming This Afternoon

Look for a major overview of the $3 billion California stem cell agency later today on Capitol Weekly, a well-respected online news and information service that focuses on state government and politics.

The piece was written by yours truly on a freelance basis for Capitol Weekly and includes the latest developments at the agency, including what departing president Randy Mills leaves behind.

Given the vagaries of the Internet and news, publication of the article cannot be totally guaranteed this afternoon. So if it doesn't pop up today, try again later this week.

Meanwhile, the California Stem Cell Report is going dark for a number of days while it makes an ocean voyage in its maritime home, the sailing vessel Hopalong, in the Sea of Cortez.  Coverage of the agency is expected to resume perhaps by this weekend when an Internet connection can be found in Baja California. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 22, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Has Opportunity for 'All-in" Executive Assistant

Looking for a great job with a $3 billion operation headquartered in downtown Oakland? You will be able to share in the progress of one of the hottest biomedical fields in the country and perhaps help save some lives.

The job is executive assistant to the president of the California stem cell agency. The current president, Randy Mills, is leaving at the end of June. Maria Millan, now vice president for therapeutics, is taking over as the interim CEO. She is line to succeed Mills, but there is no guarantee on that.

The job is no walk-in-the-park. The agency is small -- only 46 employees -- despite its reach. Long hours could be the order of the day.

The job posting on the agency's web site says the position requires an "all-in" commitment to the goals of the agency. Salary can range up to $10,433 a month.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bones, Stem Cells and Bridging the Gap

California's $3 billion stem cell research effort chalked up a small score yesterday with the announcement that a $5.2 million investment is making progress towards development of a therapy to regenerate broken bones. 
Writing on the the state stem cell agency's blog, Karen Ring, social media manager for the agency, said,
"Scientists from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have developed a new stem cell-based technology in animals that mends broken bones that can’t regenerate on their own. Their research was published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine and was funded in part by a CIRM Early Translational Award."
The award went to Dan Gazit and Hyun Bae at Cedars. Their year one and two progress reports involving the adult stem cell therapy can be found at the link in the above paragraph. 
Ring's  blog item also carried a nifty graphic on the work and a link to a video on the research. 
Ring wrote,
 "Over two million bone grafts are conducted every year to treat bone fractures caused by accidents, trauma, cancer and disease. In cases where the fractures are small, bone can repair itself and heal the injury. In other cases, the fractures are too wide and grafts are required to replace the missing bone.
"It sounds simple, but the bone grafting procedure is far from it and can cause serious problems including graft failure and infection. People that opt to use their own bone (usually from their pelvis) to repair a bone injury can experience intense pain, prolonged recovery time and are at risk for nerve injury and bone instability."
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Read All About It! Bad News for The Stem Cell 'Other'

It is a sad day for the stem cell "other."

Only 11 percent of the readers of one stem cell blog say they fit that category. That was a big drop from the early returns that showed the "other" with 21 percent.

(Never mind that we don't know the precise number of eyeballs actually represented by that 11 percent.)

All of this is the product of The Niche, the blog of UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler. He mounted a poll last week for readers to determine both their interests and general identity.

Initially "other" sprang into the lead. But as more readers responded, the reader category of academic scientists moved to the top with 32 percent. Industry scientists followed with 19 percent and patient or patient advocates with 17 percent.

What were they interested in? Investigations, 25 percent, newsy items, 20 percent, and journal club-like paper reviews, 18 percent.  Less than four percent of readers identified themselves as interested laypersons.

If you are feeling left out, there is still time to respond by going to this link. A chance at free stem cell swag is being offered. And the swag is better than a used petri dish. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 12, 2017

$20 Million, California-backed Stem Cell Trial Discloses Disappointing News

Capricor Therapeutics, Inc., today announced some bad news about its state-of-California financed clinical trial for a cardiac, stem cell therapy and said that it planned to lay off an unspecified number of employees.

Capricor's stock price plummeted 62 percent following what the company called the "unexpected" news, dropping from $1.89 to $1.16. California's stem cell agency has backed the trial with $20 million, plus an additional $7 million for earlier, related research.

The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), said on its blog,
"Obviously this is disappointing news for everyone involved, but we know that not all clinical trials are going to be successful. CIRM supported this research because it clearly addressed an unmet medical need and because an earlier Phase 1 study had showed promise in helping prevent decline in heart function after a heart attack."
In response to a question, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, said the agency is talking to Capricor about the next steps. The agency regularly halts funding of awards when recipients do not meet milestones. McCormack did not respond to a question about how much money the firm had already received from CIRM.

Capricor, which is headquartered in Beverly Hills, said in a press release that an interim analysis on the phase two trial has "has demonstrated a low probability (futility) of achieving a statistically-significant difference in the 12-month primary efficacy endpoint." The company said there was "no notable difference" between treatment groups.

The company said it would cut its workforce to focus more sharply on its treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which the stem cell agency is also backing with $3.4 million. The Duchenne treatment had better news the last month, clearing its phase one trial with no adverse effects.

Timothy Henry and Rajenda Makkar of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles are the principal investigators for the clinical trial.

The highest price for Capricor stock over the last 12 months was $5.40 and the lowest was $1.13.

Here are links to additional news stories today on Capricor: BiopharmaDive, MarketWatch, Genetic Engineering News,  Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "Other" and Stem Cell Blogs

Ever wonder who reads stem cell blogs? The "other" are the predominant readers of the one produced by a UC Davis stem cell researcher. At least that is the latest result from a survey that Paul Knoepfler is conducting about his cyberspace effort.

Knoepfler posted the survey request today. The results are still coming as you read this item. The initial tally this afternoon showed that 21 percent of respondents placed themselves in the "other" category when asked about their background. Next were academic and industry scientists, both with 18 percent, and physicians, 15 percent.

Most liked posts? Investigations, 33 percent; opinion pieces, 21 percent; newsy items, 17 percent.

The results are ever-changing as more readers respond. You can express your own preferences by going to this item. Respondents will be entered in a drawing for a stem cell T-shirt and signed copies of Knoepfler's two books. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Embedded in a Stem Cell Lab: Melton, Diabetes and Keeping Cells Happy

Yi Yu, a research assistant at the Melton lab at Harvard with flasks containing
human embryonic stem cells -- Photo 
From a "mouse house" to growth cocktails, a web site called Undark has it all in a piece headlined "A Month in the Life of a Stem Cell Lab."

The photo essay was prepared by ChloƩ Hecketsweiler, a Paris-based journalist with Le Monde. She recorded events and people during six weeks this year in the laboratory of Douglas Melton at the Harvard Stem cell Institute.

Melton is digging into diabetes. A firm he co-founded, Semma Therapeutics, is the recipient of a $5 million award from the California stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

About Melton's lab, Hecketsweiler wrote,
"I watched their experiments, learned about the complex science of stem cells, and talked with the researchers about their work and hopes. I was allowed to take pictures, and for this photo essay I tried to pick out moments and details that I found revealing, although scientists may see them as business as usual."
Her photos are first-rate, her reporting personal and the presentation strong. One member of Melton's team, Maria Keramari, told her,
"You have to keep the cells happy before you keep yourself happy."
It echoed an axiom from America's old family farming days when livestock was fed and cared for as the sun rose, long before before the family sat down for breakfast.

Another Melton researcher, Ornella Barrandon, said,
"We spend so much time on our projects, they are like our babies."
Hecketsweiler's work tells a science story in a way not regularly seen. It is a good example of making stem cell research accessible to a wide audience and leaving them wanting more. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A Scripps Scientist Deflates Cancer-Stem Cell Nexus

The sky is not falling, says a Scripps Research Institute scientist, despite headlines that seem to link "mutation" and "cancer" and "stem cells."

That comes from Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at Scripps, who was writing on the blog of UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler. Loring said,
"'Mutation' and 'cancer' are eye-catching words for a headline; add 'stem cells' and there is a good chance that a lot of people will hear about it. These words have been liberally used in the press to describe the results of a recent publication: 'Human pluripotent stem cells recurrently acquire and expand dominant negative P53 mutations.'"
Loring said she has been on a soapbox on this issue since 2000.  She said, 
"Every time a scientific report suggests that human stem cells are dangerous, I feel the need to reassure both scientists and non-scientists that we should not panic.  The sky is NOT falling (contrary to Henny Penny), and pluripotent stem cells remain valuable for cell replacement therapies."
Loring went into the rather technical reasons for her position as well as identifying issues having to do with not knowing enough about the cells used in research. She also provided some tools for researchers to use to identify cells with "functionally important mutations."

Loring's bottom line to researchers:
"Don't panic! Check your cells instead."
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 05, 2017

NY Times Offers Overview of $3 Billion California Stem Program

The New York Times took a look yesterday at California's $3 billion search for a stem cell therapy in a piece that almost incidentally reported the departure of its president, Randy Mills.

The article was more of a  blog item than the heavily and independently reported news story that is often characteristic of the Times. However, it marked one of the few occasions that the newspaper has attempted an overview of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known.

Mike McPhate did the online article as part of his California Today column, which is provided online subscribers. The article began:
"More than a decade ago, Californians made a $3 billion wager on the healing potential of stem cell research.
"Today, with that money projected to start running out in the next few years, what does the state have to show for it?"
After recounting a bit of CIRM history, McPhate answered, 
• "More than 750 grants distributed
• "A dozen research facilities constructed
• "Roughly 2,000 scholarly papers published
• "More than 2,400 students and young scientists trained
• "About 30 projects that include clinical trials funded
"Still, the agency has yet to finance a therapy approved for commercial use."
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

More Media: San Diego Weighs in With Story on Randy Mills' Departure from Stem Cell Agency

The San Diego Union-Tribune, which covers the large biotech community in its area, today carried a hefty piece on the departure of Randy Mills as CEO of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

Bradley Fikes wrote the story, which was headlined,
"Amid uncertain future, state's stem cell agency loses transformational leader "
Fikes, the only reporter on a major daily, California newspaper to regularly cover stem cell matters, reported that Mills said the agency will do fine without him. Fikes wrote, 
"'If me leaving CIRM is a problem, then I didn’t do a good job at CIRM,' Mills said. 'Whether it’s because I’m going to be the head of the National Marrow Donor Program or I get hit by a car, the success of this organization, or any organization that’s healthy and functional, should never pivot on one person,'  Mills said. 'I’ve assembled a team at CIRM that I have absolute, absolute confidence in.'"
The article also said,
"Jeanne Loring, a CIRM-funded stem cell scientist at The Scripps Research Institute, said Mills made the agency friendlier and more predictable for the scientists it funds.
"'The first and most dramatic thing he did was to end the process of independent grants,' Loring said. Under that process, each grant proposal was considered on its own, with no consideration for success under a previous grant for an earlier stage of the research.
"'It was always very troubling to people, I think, that they could do very well with CIRM money on an early-stage grant, and that would earn them nothing in a further application to continue the work,' Loring said."
Sphere: Related Content

Mills' Departure: Surprise and Concern About California Stem Cell Agency

Disappointment, shock and surprise are surfacing in the wake of the news that Randy Mills is leaving his post as CEO of the California stem cell agency. However, the news drew little attention in the media.

Mills, 45, yesterday announced that he will depart at the end of June to become head of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis. Maria Millan, vice president for therapeutics, will take over on an interim basis while the agency's  board decides on a permanent successor.

The agency is entering what will be the last three years of its life unless it can round up additional funding. It has relied almost entirely on money borrowed by the state (bonds) which is expected to run out by June 2020.

Mills' unexpected move triggered expressions of dismay and amazement. "Wow!" was the one-word, email remark from a Southern California scientist, who declined to be identified.

Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, said in an email,
"I don’t understand why Randy Mills would leave CIRM now, when the rebirth of CIRM that he initiated is beginning to succeed.  I would have expected him to follow through on his vision.  I’m disappointed."
Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis stem cell researcher, said in an email,
"Overall CIRM has prospered under Mills’ leadership with important, concrete accomplishments during his tenure. The agency's current trajectory is also very positive. He deserves a lot of credit for the positive impact he has brought to CIRM in just three years. The timing of his departure probably isn’t ideal as CIRM looks to the future with some challenges such as the nature of future funding for the agency and three years is a short tenure, but just as Mills brought in a new, helpful vision, the next leader may likewise provide new ideas and energy to successfully tackle the next phase for CIRM. Who that new leader ends up being could make all the difference for CIRM’s future so it’s a crucial decision. I’ll be curious how the Board approaches this challenge, and I’m excited to see what develops."
Knoepfler also posted more of his thoughts in an item on his blog.

John M. Simpson, stem cell maven for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said,
"Dr. Mills made substantial contributions to the agency during his tenure, improving both efficiency of the grant making process and transparency of CIRM's operations. Given the uncertain future as CIRM's current funding winds down, it is not at all surprising that he has opted to move onto another opportunity.
"Significantly, unlike the departure of his predecessor Dr. Alan Trounson, this move does not appear to raise any  conflicts of interest."
Another scientist who could not be identified said Mills' departure could lead to the loss of others of the 46 agency employees.

On the media side, Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times wrote a straightforward piece on Mills' departure. Alex Lash of Xconomy offered a lengthier take. He covered some of the history of the agency along with the status of some its current projects. The Sacramento Bee carried a freelance piece by yours truly as well.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

California's $3 Billion Stem Cell Agency Loses CEO Randy Mills

C. Randal Mills
CIRM photo
In a surprise move, the president of California's $3 billion stem cell research effort this morning announced his resignation as the program enters what some are calling its "final test."

C. Randal Mills said that he has taken a position as president of the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis, Minn. He said he will leave the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, at the end of June.

Maria Millan, CIRM photo
Maria Millan, vice president of therapeutics, will become interim president of the 12-year-old agency in July. The governing board of the agency plans a meeting of its search committee in July to consider its options regarding the appointment of a permanent president for CIRM, which expects to run out of cash for new awards in three years.

Just last week, the prestigious journal Nature described the Oakland-based agency as entering its "final test" and "last stage."

Mills, 45, joined the agency almost exactly three years ago and promptly launched a more focused effort than previously existed to fulfill the promises and expectations created by the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the agency.

Jonathan Thomas, CIRM chairman and who recruited Mills, said in a press release,
“CIRM has experienced a remarkable transformation since Randy’s arrival. He has taken the agency to a new level by developing and implementing a bold strategic plan, the results of which include an 82 percent reduction in approval time, a 3-fold increase in the number of clinical trials, and a 65 percent reduction in the time it takes to enroll those trials.

"CIRM’s mission is to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs, and under Randy’s leadership, CIRM has done just that. The opportunity for Randy to lead a tremendously important organization such as NMDP is consistent with the values he demonstrated at CIRM, which put the well-being of patients above all else."
In an interview with the California Stem Cell Report, Mills said the offer to lead the donoro program "came out of the blue." He said the opportunity to join the world's largest bone marrow effort was unique. The organization, he said "does not do anything that doesn't save lives."

Mills said in the interview that Millan was an obvious choice to succeed him on a permanent basis. In the agency's press release, Mills said,
"What this team has been able to accomplish in that time is remarkable by any objective measure and I thank them for their 'All In' attitude and effort. As a trailblazing institute, CIRM is setting new highs in productivity and efficiency and will continue to deliver on its mission under the leadership of Dr. Millan."
Millan, a physician, has been with the agency since 2012, joining it from StemCells, Inc., where she was acting medical officer and vice president. Prior to that, she was an associate professor of transplant surgery for eight years at Stanford University.

Thomas said,
“One of the most valuable contributions Randy has made at CIRM is the strength of the team he has assembled. Maria is exceptionally well qualified and completely engaged in the operations of CIRM, having worked with Randy as member of the leadership team that created and is executing the strategic plan. With her leadership, we are well positioned for continued success,
Millan was paid $281,000 last year, according to The Sacramento Bee's state worker database. Mills was paid $573,000.

Mills' departure comes as supporters of the agency are concerned about whether its work will effectively end in 2020. However, its first chairman, Bob Klein, is talking about asking California voters for another $5 billion. Klein also led the $34 million ballot campaign.

Klein's organization, Americans for Cures, is planning to conduct a poll this fall to determine the level of public support for CIRM. He has said that if support is in the 70 percent range he would mount a bond issue in 2018. Otherwise, he might try in 2020, a presidential election year, with a larger voter turnout.

The organization that Mills is joining is "the world's largest the world's largest registry of unrelated adult donors and umbilical cord blood (UCB) units," according to Nature. It has been heavily funded by the federal government with an annual budget of $383 million, according to 2014 figures, and has about 1,000 employees. CIRM currently has 46 employees and has ranged up into the middle 50s.

Accompanying Mills in the move to Minneapolis will be his wife, Anna, and two children, Elise, 13, and Chase, 10.

(The agency posted an item on its blog, The Stem Cellar, dealing with Mills' resignation shortly after this item was posted.) Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Asterias and Capricor: Good News for California's Stem Cell Research Effort

Pat Furlong, CEO of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, spoke earlier 
this year about losing her two sons to Duchenne muscular dystrophy

California's $3 billion stem cell agency last week reported encouraging results from two of its clinical trials, news that came as the prestigious journal Nature was declaring that the state effort was in its "last stage."

The trials are being conducted by Capricor Therapeutics, Inc., of Beverly Hills, Ca., and Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc., of Fremont, Ca. Both are publicly traded firms.

The news was reported by The Stem Cellar, the blog of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the Oakland-based agency is formally known.

CIRM declared,
"Asterias Biotherapeutics continues to keep a steady pace and to hit the proper milestones in its race to develop a stem cell-based treatment for acute spinal cord injury."
The agency has pumped $20.7 million into the company's program, including $6.4 million when the research was being performed by Geron Corp. CIRM said that the latest data show that the treatment is safe and should continue with 10 million and 20 million cell doses with new trial participants. CIRM  blog author Todd Dubnicoff said,
"About a month ago, Asterias reported that six of the six participants who had received a 10 million cell dose – which is transplanted directly into the spinal cord at the site of injury – have shown improvement in arm, hand and finger function nine months after the treatment. These outcomes are better than what would be expected by spontaneous recovery often observed in patients without stem cell treatment. So, we’re hopeful for further good news later this year when Asterias expects to provide more safety and efficacy data on participants given the 10 million cell dose as well as the 20 million cell dose."
CIRM's Karen Ring reported on the good news from Capricor, which has received $23.2 million from CIRM, not all of it for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, however. The disease follows a devastating course and significantly reduces life expectancy. Ring wrote,
"The company reported positive results from their Phase I/II HOPE trial that’s testing the safety of their cardiosphere stem cell-based therapy called CAP-1002. The trial had 25 patients, 13 of which received the cells and 12 who received normal treatment. No serious adverse effects were observed suggesting that the treatment is 'generally safe' thus far."
Linda Marban, president of the company said that it plans to seek permission from the FDA to move into one of the agency's programs to expedite making the treatment available.

The announcements on the trial results came during a week when Nature, which reports only intermittently on CIRM, did something of an overview of the California research program. The Nature headlines said,
"California’s $3-billion bet on stem cells faces final test
"Major investment in regenerative medicine enters its last stage — and the money might run out before treatments are ready."
Capricor's stock closed at $3.12 Friday with a 52-week price range of $2.12 to $5.40. Asterias closed at $3.70 with a 52-week range of $2.30 to $5.80.

Below is an Asterias video on its research.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Journal Nature Says: 'Last Stage' for California's Stem Cell Research Program

The prestigious journal Nature this week is calling it the "final test" for California's $3 billion plunge into development of stem cell therapies for afflictions ranging from cancer to arthritis.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, expects to run out of cash for new awards in June 2020. The 12-year-old agency was created by a ballot initiative campaign that led voters to believe that nearly miraculous stem cell treatments were just around the corner. So far the agency has not backed a stem cell therapy that is widely available.

For Nature, the situation merited this headline yesterday on its web site,
"California’s $3-billion bet on stem cells faces final test
"Major investment in regenerative medicine enters its last stage — and the money might run out before treatments are ready."
Amy Maxmen wrote the article. She said,
"Now, the pot of money — one of the biggest state investments in science — is running dry before treatments have emerged, raising questions about whether Californians will pour billions more into stem-cell research."
Maxmen continued,
"If they don’t, that could leave hundreds of scientists without support, and strand potentially promising therapies before they reach the market. 'It’s an issue of great concern,' says Jonathan Thomas, chair of the board for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in Oakland." 
Maxmen also noted the critical assessment of CIRM in 2012 by the Institute of Medicine and some subsequent changes made by the agency's board. She said,
"Jim Lott, a member of the state board that oversees CIRM’s finances, says that he is not satisfied with the changes. He also argues that CIRM may not have been strategic enough in directing research. 'Some people say if they had a better focus, they might have achieved cures.'"
The Nature piece covered familiar ground for readers of the California Stem Cell Report. But she had further news from Bob Klein, a Palo Alto, Ca., real estate investment banker. Maxmen wrote,
"Bob Klein, the property developer who put Proposition 71 on the ballot and established CIRM, isn’t waiting for the money to run out. He leads an advocacy group, Americans for Cures, which will soon poll voters  to see whether they would approve another $5 billion in funding. If it looks like at least 70 percent of Californians support that plan, he’ll start a campaign to put another initiative on the ballot in 2018.
"Klein hopes that Californians will rise in support of science at a time when the Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to the NIH budget. If public enthusiasm is not so strong, Klein says, he’ll aim for the 2020 elections, when voter turnout should be higher because it will coincide with the next presidential race."
Maxmen concluded with this comment from Eric Verdin, president of the Buck Institute on Aging in Novato, Ca., which has received nearly $35 million from CIRM.
“It would be a catastrophe for California if people say CIRM did not do what it was expected to do. They’ve built the foundation for the field and attracted people from around the world — you can’t just now pull the plug.”
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 20, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Plumps Its Program as It Eyes Need for More Funding

California's 12-year-old stem cell agency today launched a "statewide outreach tour" that is aimed "partly" at building support for pumping $5 billion more into the program which is nearing the end of its financial life.

The agency has billed the one-hour, public program in San Diego as a "patient advocate event." Reporter Bradley Fikes of the San Diego Union-Tribune discussed the event in an article this morning that was headlined:
"Should Californians give more money for stem cell research?"
In addition to being sponsored by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM),  as the agency is formally known, the event is backed by UC San Diego, which has received $177 million from the agency.

Fikes said the event is the first in a series that is "is partly meant as a way to persuade voters to further support the institute with more funding."

He continued,
"Jonathan Thomas, CIRM’s chairman, said the San Diego event and others like it in other parts of the state are meant to update patients and all Californians about how their money has been spent, and to hear from the public."
Robert Klein, the multimillionaire real estate investment banker who led the 2004 ballot campaign that created the $3 billion agency, said last month that he expects that a public opinion poll this fall will show strong support for adding $5 billion to the effort. It is scheduled to run out of cash for new awards in June 2020 and perhaps sooner.

The 2004 campaign cost $34 million. Klein has not publicly discussed his plans to raise money for the ballot effort.

The agency has yet to finance a commercially available stem cell therapy. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 13, 2017

UC Irvine Stem Cell Blog: Troubling New Federal Law on Stem Cell Research

The stem cell blog at UC Irvine this week published a piece that warned that a new federal law aimed at speeding commercialization of stem cell therapies is worrisome and could lead to harm to patients and damage the entire field of research.

The April 10 article was written by Navied Akhtar, a Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical engineering department.

Akhtar's topic was the 21st Century Cures Act. He wrote that the law, signed by President Obama and which had a broad range of supporters,
"...utilitizes evidence from clinical experience to 'help to support the approval of a new indication for a drug approved under [accelerated approval]' and 'to help to support or satisfy post approval study requirements.' The only requirements written in for accelerated approval past a 'reasonable likelihood' that there will be clinical benefit, is that one or both of two requirements are met: (1) That the manufacturer conducts studies after accelerated approval to verify the predicted effect on mortality or other clinical benefit and (2) That the manufacturer submits copies of marketing materials for the drug during the preapproval period." 
Akhtar said that the law 
"will allow for what is effectively anecdotal evidence to be used as actual evidence to support the requirement for accelerated approval. Furthermore, the verbiage surrounding the term 'surrogate endpoint' is loose at best. The idea of a surrogate endpoint is to produce a clinically relevant point in which to be able to measure the efficacy and safety of a drug. In the Cures Act, the definition of what constitutes a surrogate endpoint is left rather open-ended. It reads as such: "The term ‘surrogate endpoint’ means a marker, such as a laboratory measurement, radiographic image, physical sign, or other measure, that is not itself a direct measurement of clinical benefit, and is known to predict clinical benefit and could be used to support traditional approval of a drug or biological product; or is reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit and could be used to support the accelerated approval of a drug or biological product.' It is worrisome to write that this endpoint can be a marker that is not a direct measurement of clinical benefit, but is known to predict clinical benefit. This leaves open a large workaround for accelerated approval of drugs that may have no business being approved."
Akhtar goes on to cite cases of drugs that ultimately proved harmful even after clearing the usual approval process. 

In the case of novel stem cell therapies, he argued, serious mishaps or death because of loose federal standards could endanger progress in the entire field. 
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Top Lawyer Likely Coming Soon to California's $3 Billion Stem Cell Agency

California's $3 billion stem cell agency appears set to announce a new general counsel, a key position that pays nearly $400,000 a year.

The agency has closed applications and has only one candidate to replace James Harrison, who has announced he will be leaving the agency's service at the end of June.

A job opening notice was posted last month seeking applicants for the position, which has an annual salary range of $208,483 to $384,537.

Harrison worked as outside contractor with the Oakland-based agency in an agreement that totalled $575,000 this fiscal year. The agency is expected to run out of funds for new awards in June 2020.

Harrison has been the top lawyer for the agency since its inception in 2004. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 02, 2017

California's Unregulated Stem Cell Clinics: Will State Regulators Step In to Cure Abuses?

The state of California has laws regarding substandard and questionable medical care, and now questions are being raised about whether it should step in to deal with the unregulated stem cell clinics that appear to flourishing in the Golden State.

The concerns come as the Los Angeles Times reported during the weekend about an enterprise in La Jolla, StemGenex Medical Group, which describes itself as "the premiere leader in the United States for regenerative medicine." 

The Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote about the case of Jim Durgeloh, 59, a construction contractor from Washington state, who was looking for a solution to his hip problems, as well as other cases. Durgeloh paid StemGenex $15,000 for a treatment.

Hiltzik interviewed Durgelogh who was in Southern California with his wife following treatment. Hiltzik wrote,
"They were preparing to fly home, infused with the hope communicated by the clinic staff, who 'seemed very optimistic,' Durgeloh told me.
"A lawsuit in San Diego federal court suggests that StemGenex may have given the Durgelohs nothing but hope. Three StemGenex patients — two with diabetes and one with lupus — say they were misled by the medical group’s marketing pitch to pay $14,900 each in 2015 and 2016 for therapies that have had no effect.
"The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, claims that StemGenex has made its money by 'targeting the ill and the elderly' with 'false, fabricated and purposefully misleading' claims about patient satisfaction."
Hiltzik continued,
"StemGenex, in its reply to the ... lawsuit, asserts that the plaintiffs 'cannot prove' that its 'representations regarding the efficacy of its stem cell treatments are actually false.' The plaintiffs, it continues, 'do not cite to a single scientific study that disproves [StemGenex’s] advertised claims.'"
UC Davis stem cell scientist Paul Knoepfler wrote yesterday on his blog about Hiltzik's article. Knoepfler was the co-author of a 2016 study that attracted nationwide attention with the disclosure that 570 unregulated stem cell clinics exist in the United States. California leads the way with 113.

Knoepfler focused on Hiltzik's disclosure that one of the StemGenex physicians, Scott Sessions, was placed on three years probation last February involving treatments not related to StemGenex. Sessions was accused of negligence "related to cosmetic surgery and other procedures he performed on two patients at an unrelated facility in 2011 and 2013."

Knoepfler continued,
"Sessions photo was up on the Stemgenex website...and then suddenly it wasn’t. Hiltzik also mentions that Stemgenex has had other questionable information on its web site in the past.
"With California having the most stem cell clinics selling non-FDA approved interventions of any state I hope the state medical board here will wake up to the fact that it needs to give this arena more attention."
The state has wide-ranging authority to regulate physicians. A document on the state Department of Consumer Affairs web site says that physicians can be disciplined for such things as  "not using accepted, effective treatments or diagnostic procedures," "not referring a patient to a specialist when
appropriate" and "continuing to use a procedure that is unnecessary." Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 31, 2017

California's Alpha Stem Cell Clinics: A 21-Video Overview of the $40 Million Effort

The great mysteries and not-so-great mysteries of the stem cells and their likely applications are the subject of a host of videos drawn from a day-long meeting this month at the City of Hope in California.

The occasion for presentation of the clips on You Tube was a symposium on California's Alpha Clinic network, which is scheduled to expand from three to five sites this year. That will boost the state investment in the network to $40 million.

The March 23 session included discussion of the results of some of the research at the sites -- City of Hope, UC San Diego and UCLA/UC Irvine. Patients spoke as well, and there were discussions of the economic barriers involving commercialization of stem cell therapies.

Of particular interest was a nine-minute look at "stem cell therapy value and reimbursement considerations" by Jennifer Malin of United Healthcare.  That video is at the top of this item.

The Alpha network was initiated by California's $3 billion stem cell agency. Geoff Lomax, the agency's senior officer for strategic initiatives, presented an overview of the program. Below is a video of Bob Klein, the agency's former chairman, in which he indicates he will be backing a $5 billion bond measure to keep the agency going beyond 2020, when its funds run out.

Twenty-one videos are available. Here is a link to the agenda, which is useful as a guide to pick videos that are more likely to be relevant to a viewer's particular interests.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

State Lawmaker Aims to End California Stem Cell Program, Calls It a 'Boondoggle'

State Sen. John Moorlach in video from his office

A California legislator has launched an effort to terminate the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is already set to go out of business in about three years.

Republican state Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa said in a video,
"It's time to shut this down....We as taxpayers need some protection. We need to stop the boondoggle."
Moorlach has authored a proposed constitutional amendment that has been referred to the Senate Health Committee. No hearing date has been set. The measure would strip from the state constitution the language that created the agency in 2004.

The proposal, SCA7, requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature and approval by a vote of the people. Given the Democratic dominance of the legislature, that makes the chances of enactment of SCA7 unlikely.

Nonetheless, Moorlach's effort reflects the sentiments of a certain segment of the public. It also provides ammunition for those seeking to fund the agency with another $5 billion, which would additionally be placed before voters, probably in November 2018.  It is useful for campaigns for such measures to be able to point to what they consider threats to science and medical progress.

Backers of a $5 billion bond measure are proposing it because the agency is slated to run out of cash for new research awards by June 2020.

Moorlach's office produced a short statement in support of elimination of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM as the agency is formally known. It said,
"California voters approved a ten year stem cell program that they thought would produce widespread cures and save thousands of lives. They were also promised revenue-producing intellectual property that would help the state financially. These remain empty promises.
"More than thirteen years after its passage, around $2 billion in funds have been dispersed and $1.2 billion has been spent on servicing the principal and interest of the debt . With a $1.6 billion dollar budget deficit and crumbling infrastructure, we need to stop the issuance of bonds on an ineffective and unaccountable agency. Scarce taxpayer funds could be of better use elsewhere."
Asked for a comment on the legislation, an agency spokesman, Kevin McCormack, said,
"We are aware of the bill and are monitoring it." 
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 27, 2017

Slim Coverage of California's Ambitious Alpha Stem Cell Clinic Network

CIRM chart showing jump in clinical trials at institutions
 currently in the Alpha Clinic Network

Last week California's soon-to-be $40 million Alpha stem cell clinic network drew attention from within the stem cell community but little notice in the media.

A symposium last Thursday at the City of Hope on the effort covered aspects of the effort ranging from its results to what patients had to say. As of this morning, only one story had surfaced.

Claudia Palma of the Pasadena Star-News wrote a piece that sketched out something of an overview, including quotes from John Zaia, the principal investigator for the Alpha clinic at the City of Hope. Other clinics are in place at UC San Diego and UCLA/UC Irvine.

The $3 billion, California stem cell agency initiated the program in 2014 and plans to add two more sites this year.

Capitol Weekly, an online news service focusing on state government, picked up the article from the symposium by the California Stem Cell Report on an effort to keep the agency going after it runs out of money in 2020.

Stem cell agency officials also appeared at the conference, including Geoff Lomax, senior officer for strategic initiatives, who laid out the Alpha Clinic program. His presentation highlighted the boost in number of stem cell trials at the three institutions plus

CIRM graphic on Alpha trials and range of afflictions

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fresh $5 Billion for California Stem Cell Research? Voter Poll Scheduled for This Fall

The man often called the father of the California stem cell agency today all but said he is set to launch an effort to pump an additional $5 billion in state funding into the research effort, which is scheduled to run out of cash in about three years. 

Robert Klein, a wealthy real estate investment banker, told a packed audience at the City of Hope in
Robert Klein at City of Hope today
the Los Angeles area that a public opinion poll would be taken next fall in California to gauge support for a new bond measure to support the agency. 

He said that California has the "opportunity and privilege" to "lift the human condition." Klein said,
 "A revolution is underway."
Klein managed the 2004 campaign that created the stem cell agency, and he oversaw the writing of the 10,000-word initiative that placed the agency's spending outside of the control of the legislature and governor. Klein spoke at a daylong symposium involving the state's soon-to-be $40 million, Alpha stem cell clinic network, which is scheduled to grow from three to five sites later this year. 

Researchers, business executives and patients praised the performance of the clinics which were initiated with support from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as the Oakland-based agency is formally known.

Klein, who served as the agency's first chairman until 2011, praised its work. He also noted that California has 50 percent of the nation's biotech infrastructure. He said the state has an historic opportunity to carry the current stem cell research forward.

Klein did not say specifically he would organize a new campaign for a bond measure for the agency. But he was more specific about the voter poll this fall and was optimistic about the future of the research in California. He said,:
"This fall when the citizens of California are polled, I believe they will say (the agency's) results are encouraging."
The agency has yet to produce a stem cell therapy for widespread public use despite the expectations raised by Klein's campaign 12 years ago.

Klein did not say who would fund the poll or how campaign funds would be raised. However, he has an organization called Americans for Cures, which had its origins in the campaign of 2004. That ballot measure effort cost $34 million.

A new bond measure would likely be mounted in the 2018 November general election, which would improve the likelihood of approval plus help to provide timely financial continuity for the agency. Sphere: Related Content

Alpha Clinic Session Streaming Live Today

The symposium on Thursday dealing with California's Alpha stem cell clinics will be available online or via a phone connection that day and also later on YouTube later.

Here is the information provided by the City of Hope, which is hosting the one-day event, on accessing the proceedings, which involves a $40 million effort by the California stem cell agency. You can find the agenda here for some idea on the timing of each segment and speakers.

Click the link below Thursday to join the webinar:


Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,193680670# or +16465588656,193680670#

Or Telephone:

Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)

Webinar ID: 193 680 670

International numbers available: https://cityofhope.zoom.us/zoomconference?m=rHRfXr-NQJ9VHlWI_6V4iao8Z4JbxpqJ

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Gottlieb Effect: Dismantling of FDA Silos, Less Regulation of Stem Cells?

A California stem cell researcher is predicting a possible "roller-coaster ride" in the wake of the appointment of Scott Gottlieb as the new head of Food and Drug Administration(FDA)

President Trump named Gottlieb to the post earlier this month. Gottlieb has said in the past that "less is more" in terms of regulation of stem cell research, according to UC Davis research Paul Knoepfler.

He wrote on his blog last week about the Gottlieb's views and what they could mean for stem cell research. Knoepfler reviewed some of Gottlieb's publications and speeches for the analysis, including a 2016 speech in Berkeley which contained "some pretty radical language."  Mentioned was dismantling silos within the FDA.

The California scientist said,
"The use of powerful words like 'dismantled' by Gottlieb last year, now bode for potentially highly disruptive changes at the FDA in the Trump administration under his leadership. Since he stated that regenerative medicine products 'don’t easily fall into FDA’s current buckets,' I wonder what the could mean for CBER (a branch of the FDA).
"I’m hoping that Gottlieb will rightly see the central distinction between empowering more efficient stem cell and regenerative medicine product development by good actors in the field (he could do this, for example, by shaping how the 21st Century Cures Act regenerative medicine-related directives are implemented) versus enabling many dubious actors at a host of for-profit businesses. These companies don’t do preclinical studies, don’t respect the FDA, and put patients at risk."
Knoepfler covered additional ground in his March 14 piece, which may be the only serious, current analysis of Gottlieb and stem cells. Knoepfler concluded:
"Change at the FDA overall or on stem cells isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it could be a roller-coaster ride."
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 17, 2017

California Stem Cell Agency Says Its Top Lawyer Is Departing After More Than 12 years

James Harrison, Remcho photo
The $3 billion California stem cell agency today said it is losing one of its top leaders, James Harrison, one of the authors of the measure that created the agency and who most recently is serving as its “unflappable” general counsel.

The agency announced this afternoon that Harrison would be departing at end of June “to focus full-time on his legal practice.”

Harrison has worked with the agency under contract since its inception in 2004. He was known for his exceptional legal skills and aplomb when matters became muddled or worse at meetings of the agency’s 29-member board.

Randy Mills, president of the agency, said in a press release,
“James is more than wise counsel at CIRM, he has also been a highly effective leader, responsible for designing and implementing many of CIRM 2.0’s more innovative features.
“He is unflappable and maintains a sense of humor and perspective, even in the most challenging of situations. We thank him for his many years of service and wish him the very best.”
Harrison was one of five persons who drafted Proposition 71, the ballot initiative that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM as the agency is formally known. He is a partner in the Oakland law firm of Remcho, Johansen and Purcell, which also has an office in Sacramento. The firm specializes in political, election, ethics, constitutional and public policy law.

Harrison was known for his work on ballot measures well before he became involved in the Proposition 71 campaign, He also has worked in election law and campaign finance.

Harrison never was formally classified as an employee of the stem cell agency. His services came under a contract with his law firm. For the current fiscal year, that contract amounts to $575,000.

A 2009 memo to the stem cell agency board recounted Harrison’s value to CIRM, ranging from defending its constitutionality to its public records policy. The memo, prepared at the behest of Bob Klein, the agency’s first chairman, said that Harrison had been “has been involved in virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations, including defending the agency in litigation, drafting and reviewing agency policies, advising the agency on conflict of interest issues, and interfacing with constitutional officers and legislators on matters ranging from financing to proposed legislation.”

Mills said that Scott Tocher, deputy general counsel for the agency, will work closely with Harrison to ensure continuity during a transition period. Tocher is also a longtime veteran of CIRM affairs, joining the agency in 2005.
Sphere: Related Content