Business & Real Estate

UC Davis loses bid to land stem cell clinic

The California stem cell agency Thursday approved $24 million to create what it’s billing as a world-leading string of stem cell clinics, but rejected an $11 million bid from the University of California, Davis.

Awards of $8 million each went to the City of Hope in Duarte, the University of California, San Diego, and UCLA in an application that also included the University of California, Irvine. The centers will focus on clinical trial treatments and research leading to treatments for the general public. Currently no proposed stem cell treatments funded by the agency have reached the marketplace.

The so-called Alpha clinics are “new and innovative ways of accelerating clinical research with stem cells,” said C. Randal Mills, president of the stem cell agency. They would create one-stop centers for treatment and help create a critical mass for stem cell research.

“Instead of managing symptoms,” Mills said in a statement, “cellular medicine has the power to replace or regenerate damaged tissues and organs.”

Officials from UC Davis made a last minute effort to revive their proposal at a Los Angeles meeting of the governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known. Since the initial rejection of the UCD proposal, Jan Nolta, head of the UCD stem cell program, told the board that the school had all but cleared a key hurdle with the Federal Drug Administration for an HIV clinical trial that could begin next year.

The development, she said, adds considerable value to its plan. Davis officials also said the “best, most talented” people with the most experience in stem cell trials would be moved to work 100 percent of the time in the Alpha clinic.

The Davis proposal was rejected by CIRM’s out-of-state reviewers during a closed-door meeting earlier this year. The reviewers make the de facto decisions on grant applications. The governing board only occasionally overturns negative decisions by reviewers. On Thursday, it did not even discuss the UCD appeal.

A summary of the review posted on the CIRM website said of the Davis application, “While some reviewers felt that the large number of trials ongoing or planned would clearly benefit from additional resources, others questioned the added value of establishing (an Alpha clinic) at this site and did not think the application clearly conveyed how CIRM funds would be used to leverage and enhance the already ongoing activities.”

Judy Roberson, a Sacramento patient advocate for Huntington’s disease, said in a comment on the California Stem Cell Report that she was “stunned” that UC Davis was being rejected. She noted that its Northern California location makes it accessible to 18 million people in Northern California, easing the hardship and expense of travel for seriously ill patients.

Despite today’s rejection, the stem cell agency has been a boon for UC Davis, which has received 34 awards totaling $126 million during the last 10 years. The school ranks fifth among CIRM award recipients, ahead of such institutions as UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California. The connections with the agency have helped lure top researchers along with a $100 million endowment for a new nursing school.

UC Davis has had a representative on the CIRM governing board since its inception. Researchers from the school have been regular attendees at agency board meetings.

As originally proposed, up to five Alpha clinics and an information/data center would have been created throughout California at a cost of up $70 million. The proposal has shrunk to about $34 million as it has undergone review. The information center contract is yet to be awarded but is expected to total about $10 million, which is included in the $34 million.

David Jensen publishes the California Stem Cell Report – californiastemcellreport.blogspot.com – and has followed the stem cell agency since 2006.

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