The governing board of California’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has approved a $70 million plan to create a new statewide network of sites that will act as a hub for stem cell clinical trials. The Alpha Stem Cell Clinics Network, which CIRM says would be one of the first to focus solely on stem cell therapies, aims to support and accelerate clinical trials for programs funded by the agency, as well as those developed elsewhere by academic researchers, clinicians, and pharmaceutical companies. CIRM said it is hopeful that as the field evolves, the delivery of approved new stem cell therapies will become another focus.

The network will consist of up to five clinic sites at established academic institutions and a coordinating center that will help the clinics streamline challenging processes such as enrolling patients, managing regulatory procedures, and sharing data. The Alpha Clinics will reportedly speed testing and distribution of experimental stem cell therapies and will focus on therapies that involve transplanting or infusing stem cells. 

An additional goal of the network will be educating people seeking such therapies, or interested in enrolling in clinical trials for testing them. The Alpha Clinics network will disseminate data—and provide patient counselors who can explain the information—generated through this initiative.

“These clinics have the potential to revolutionize how we deliver stem cell therapies to patients,” says Alan Trounson, Ph.D., president of CIRM. “Stem cell therapies are a completely new way of treating diseases and disorders so we need a completely new way of delivering those in a safe and effective manner. These clinics will help us do just that and the clinical trials carried out in this network will fulfill the agency’s promise of bringing new therapies to patients who need them.”

This is hardly the only big investment CIRM has made this year: In May, CIRM awarded $36 million in funds to attract six scientists to the state, and more than $6 million to create a partnership with Sangamo BioSciences to develop a therapy for the blood disorder beta-thalassemia. And in March, the organization announced a plan to set up a stem cell bank and approved nine applications to generate the cells to fill it. That initiative aims to create and store 9,000 cell lines from 3,000 individuals—representing 11 diseases—at a total cost of $32.3 million.

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