Health & Medicine

UC Davis to land millions of dollars for stem cell clinic

Dr. Jan Nolta in 2010, talking about the grand opening of the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures.
Dr. Jan Nolta in 2010, talking about the grand opening of the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. rbyer@sacbee.com

The University of California, Davis, is set to receive a $7.9 million award on Thursday to create the first Alpha Clinic stem cell program in Northern California, joining a signature effort of the California stem cell agency to produce a safe stem cell therapy ready for widespread use.

The award comes on top of the $131 million that UCD has already received over the last 12 years from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, an Oakland-based stem cell agency. The cash has helped propel the campus into the top tier of stem cell research institutions in the state. UCD ranks fifth in terms of dollars received, sitting behind only Stanford, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco.

“It would be fabulous to become a part of the important California Alpha Clinic Network and to have the opportunity to expand access to stem cell and regenerative medicine clinical trial enrollment throughout Northern and Central California through our fantastic telehealth program and outstanding (stem cell production) facility,” Jan Nolta, director of the Stem Cell Program and Institute for Regenerative Cures at UCD, told The Bee in an email.

The UCD proposal received high marks during a closed door review in July involving out-of-state reviewers. All that remains is for the CIRM governing board to ratify the decision of reviewers, which is a routine matter in keeping with the years-long practice at the agency.

Despite winning a 13-0 vote from grant reviewers, Nolta is leaving nothing to chance. She and her team are readying for a presentation at Thursday’s meeting in Oakland.

“We are looking forward to presenting our pitch ... with nervous anticipation,” she said.

The main purpose of the Alpha Clinic is to support and run clinical trials to test stem cell therapies on patients for both safety and efficacy. The program was conceived as a way to help make California the worldwide leader in stem cell research and treatment, creating one-stop centers to help patients and researchers in the complex and difficult field. The centers are linked in a statewide network aimed at fostering cooperation and speeding research. The current centers are located at UCLA/UC Irvine, UC San Diego and City of Hope in the Los Angeles area.

The clinics are currently backed with $34 million but also bring their own institutional resources to bear. In addition to UCD, another yet-to-be-identified institution is expected to be awarded nearly $8 million Thursday. That would bring the state investment in Alpha Clinic to $50 million.

A CIRM summary of the reviewers’ comments described the UCD application as “strong.”

“The applicant’s telemedicine capabilities were a particular strength and would expand patient access to stem cell clinical trials. Reviewers noted that the (stem cell) manufacturing facility is well established and already provides significant value to trial sponsors,” the document said.

This was the second time around for a UCD Alpha Clinic proposal. In 2014, the school lost in competition for first-round funding.

The California stem cell agency was created in 2004 when voters approved Proposition 71, which also provided $3 billion in state bond funding. CIRM has yet to finance a therapy that is available for widespread use. It currently supports 33 clinical trials – likely to become 35 by the end of Thursday’s meeting. Clinical trials are the last stage before a treatment can win federal approval for general use. However, the trials can take years.

CIRM is expected to run out of cash for new awards in mid-2020. CIRM directors are currently examining options for future funding.

(Jensen is a former editor at The Bee and has published nearly 5,000 items since 2005 about the stem cell agency on his blog, The California Stem Cell Report. He can be reached at djensen@californiastemcellreport.com and welcomes comments.)

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