News | November 2, 2009

Novel Funding Mechanism Speeds The Path Of Research

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state stem cell agency, and two international partners awarded more than $250M to 14 multidisciplinary teams of researchers in California, the UK and Canada to develop stem cell-based therapies for 11 diseases. The Disease Team Research Awards include approximately $8M from the Medical Research Council, UK, and approximately $35M from the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, Canada, to fund the international portions of the collaborations.

CIRM's 29-member Governing Board voted to approve funding for the four-year grants, which mark the first CIRM funding explicitly expected to result in a filing with the FDA to begin a clinical trial. The Disease Team Research Awards fund research teams that include basic scientists and clinicians from both academia and industry. These collaborations speed the process of establishing clinical trials by insuring that clinically relevant issues are considered early and avoiding potential safety issues being discovered late in the process.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said the pace of the Disease Team projects stands in contrast to the decade or more that's usually required to reach clinical trials. "Scientists have talked for years about the need to find ways to speed the pace of discovery. By encouraging applicants to form teams composed of the best researchers from around the world we think CIRM will set a new standard for how translational research should be funded," he said.

Each team will be actively managed by CIRM and the agency's international partners for those teams with cross-border collaborations. Decisions to move forward with the project will be made at key points in the development cycle.

"This unique partnership is another opportunity for the people of California to lead the way in this important research and advance potentially life-saving science," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "These grants will help unite some of the best scientists throughout the world, including right here in California, to find new therapies and cures for people suffering from chronic and life-debilitating diseases. I am proud California remains at the forefront of this innovative research and I look forward to the results of this international collaboration."

"This initiative is bringing together the leading minds in cancer and stem cell research from Canada and California," said Dr. Morag Park, Scientific Director of the Institute of Cancer Research, part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada's health research agency. "CIHR, in conjunction with Genome Canada and through the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, is proud to fund Canadian Scientists in this cross-border collaboration that will engage scientists from many disciplines, combine resources, technologies and knowledge to find more effective treatments for leukemia and solid cell tumours."

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council: "The partnerships that have been established between the UK and CIRM have brought us closer to delivering the promise of stem cell treatments for debilitating conditions. We hope these projects will accelerate treatments to early clinical trials, eventually leading to a direct benefit for people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, which up until now has been regarded as incurable and also acute myeloid leukaemia. The MRC has led the way for UK translational researchers and together with our partners at CIRM we look forward to realising the full potential of stem cell research"

Other diseases being targeted by the teams include HIV/AIDS, type 1 diabetes, damage from heart attack, sickle cell anemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and epidermolysis bullosa, a hereditary life-threatening condition of the skin's connective layer. The 14 awards will go to seven not-for-profit institutions and one for-profit institution. The award to the one for-profit grantee will take the form of a loan.

"CIRM's loan program will recycle money back into future awards and leverage the voter's commitment to the field," said Robert Klein, Chair of the CIRM Governing Board. "In providing stem cell funding in the form of loans, CIRM is able to fund more science and make a more significant impact on the speed of bringing new stem cell-based therapies to the people of California and the world."

Other ICOC Business
The board also voted to approve an update to CIRM's on-going strategic plan. The current plan, approved in 2006, anticipated a slower pace of research toward potential clinical applications. The revision proposes an increased emphasis on moving safety tested candidate therapeutics to the clinic and encourages closer ties to industry and national and international collaborators to meet those goals.

About CIRM
CIRM was established in November, 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. The statewide ballot measure, which provided $3B in funding for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions, was overwhelmingly approved by voters, and called for the establishment of an entity to make grants and provide loans for stem cell research, research facilities, and other vital research opportunities. For more information, please visit

The Cancer Stem Cell Consortium
The Cancer Stem Cell Consortium is a not-for-profit corporation that was incorporated in 2007 to coordinate an international strategy for cancer stem cell research and related translational activities. The strategy will allow the biomedical community to move quickly and effectively from discoveries to application in the clinic; establish partnerships among organizations from Canada, California and other jurisdictions to accelerate and synergize research and translation opportunities related to cancer stem cells; and secure investments from governments, private foundations and the private sector for sustained and stable research funding. Current Consortium members include: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the National Research Council Canada, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the Stem Cell Network.

About the MRC
The Medical Research Council supports the best scientific research to improve human health. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health medicine and has led to pioneering discoveries in our understanding of the human body and the diseases which affect us all. MRC is the UK's major funder of stem cell research and has a key role in delivering Government's expectations in this area. For more information visit