Institute also doled out its third Research Leadership award totaling $5.6 million.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) reports that it has approved $27 million for two funds, awarded a third Research Leadership award of $5.6 million, and sanctioned a proposal for a stem cell bank to be backed by $30 million.

CIRM received support from its governing board for a $15 million External Innovation Initiative and a $12 million Bridging Fund. The former program allows CIRM to identify research taking place within the jurisdiction of any of the agency’s external collaboration network of funding partners. The Bridge Fund provides supplemental money for the most promising existing CIRM-funded projects to enable the research to continue without interruption until next applicable round of CIRM funding or receipt of other funds.

The governing board also voted on two new research initiatives during the meeting and approved a Research Leadership Award of $5.6 million. The money will help with recruiting Zhigang He, Ph.D., from Children’s Hospital Boston to the University of California, Berkeley. The funds are part of a recruitment package but won’t be dispersed until Dr. He’s recruitment is finalized.

Finally, the board approved a concept proposal for an initiative to create a new stem cell bank with $30 million. In order to create useful cell lines for researchers to use in disease therapy research, CIRM has proposed creating a bank of cells carrying disease mutations and making those cells available to researchers in California and worldwide.

The External Innovation Initiative came in response to a call by the external advisory panel that reviewed CIRM last year. The panel recommended “a more aggressively proactive approach to identifying innovative projects across the stem cell therapeutic landscape that shows promise for moving into translational research, clinical trials, and product development.”

CIRM’s external collaboration network of funding partners includes 12 countries, two international states, one domestic state, two foundations, and most recently CIRM’s collaborative relationship with the NIH. CIRM can fund new or supplement an existing award to a California researcher who forms a partnership with the external scientist. The external portion of the award would be supported by the funding partner.

“This initiative allows CIRM to support groundbreaking research wherever it is taking place,” says CIRM president Alan Trounson. “With our extensive network of collaborations and collaborative funding partners, we can jointly fund the research taking place outside California, with CIRM promoting collaborations with researchers who can add scientific expertise and accelerate the work taking place inside California.”

The $12 million Bridging Fund has been put in place to ensure that certain CIRM-backed initiatives continue smoothly until more funds are available for the researchers in that program either from CIRM or other sources. The Bridging Fund, the External Innovation Initiative, and the $30 million Strategic Partnership Funding Program sanctioned in October make up the Opportunity Fund.

Over and above approving money for these parts of the Opportunity Fund, CIRM gave the go-ahead for the another Research Leadership award. The $5.6 million given to Dr. He will span six years and support Dr. He’s research into restoring neural function after spinal cord injury. His work focuses on regenerating the nerve projections that carry signals up and down the spine. Dr. He intends to develop stem cell technologies to bridge the site of the injury and restore the ability for nerve signals to travel along the spine.

CIRM’s final approval today, for the stem cell bank, is called the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative. The first part of this initiative is already in place, with the CIRM/NIH collaboration to generate cell lines from people with Huntington disease, Parkinson disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The initiative consists of three RFA concepts that are expected to be available in May 2012, with the ICOC voting on final applications early 2013. They would fund:

  • Collection of samples from people with particular prevalent diseases, with the goal of deriving lines from 1,200 individuals. The resulting lines would be available free of charge to the research groups who acquired the samples. This RFA would be worth up to $4 million.
  • Derivation of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines from the samples. This award, worth up to $16 million, would go to a single organization that can derive the lines under consistent conditions.
  • Creation of a pluripotent stem cell bank containing the iPSCs created from the first two initiatives and also embryonic stem cell lines and iPSC lines already created by California researchers. This bank is expected to make well characterized, disease-specific stem cell lines available to researchers worldwide. The award would be worth up to $10 million over three years.
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