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Close Scrutiny Needed as First Stem Cell Grants Offered to For-Profit Companies, Consumers Say

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Nov. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- California's stem cell agency is inviting for-profit companies to apply for research grants for the first time, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) noted today and the non-partisan, non-profit consumer advocacy organization vowed to scrutinize the awards process to prevent abuse.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has just issued calls for applications for two types of grants. CIRM said it planned to fund up to 20 six-month disease team planning grants for a total of $1.1 million. The stem cell agency has also ear marked $25 million for up to 16 three-year grants to develop new stem cell lines.

"We've already seen an example of an improper attempt by a stem cell board member to influence an award to his non-profit research institution," said John M. Simpson, FTCR's Stem Cell Project Director. "The possibility of abuse is even greater when the biotech industry goes after the money."

Researchers from both universities and companies will compete head-to-head for the grants. CIRM staff have vowed that only the quality of the science in the proposed projects will determine who gets the money. The grants will be awarded in the spring.

So far CIRM has awarded about $210 million in research, training and facilities grants. All that money has gone to universities and non-profit research institutions. When Californians approved Proposition 71 funding the state's $6-billion stem cell project, they approved giving money to companies as well as universities and research institutions.

Companies have not been able to apply for grants because the Intellectual Property (IP) regulations governing who controls any discoveries made with CIRM-funded research had not been created for businesses. Those IP rules are expected to be approved at the stem cell oversight board's December meeting.

"Biotech companies will clearly play an important role in stem cell research," said Simpson. "Californians voted to allow them to seek CIRM funds, but at the same time they didn't authorize a blank check for biotech. We will continue to watch CIRM and the oversight committee closely and work to ensure that those who are paying for this research -- the people of California -- have affordable access to any discoveries that are made."

This week Controller John Chiang announced that he planned to audit CIRM. He also asked the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate board member John Reed's intervention in a grant application from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research where he is president. "I am delighted to see Controller Chiang exercising his oversight responsibility so effectively," said Simpson.

FTCR's Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California's landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will award $3 billion in grants over a decade. Bond financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is California's leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer watchdog group. For more information visit us on the web at:

SOURCE Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
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