December 21, 2020

Prop 14 California: Big Expectations for CIRM 3.0

Prop 14 California: Big Expectations for CIRM 3.0

Approval of Prop 14 California last month to renew CIRM was one of the biggest state election developments of 2020. Yet it didn’t get much news coverage somehow. The exception is David Jensen over at California Stem Cell Report, who has been a great source of information about the various news surrounding Prop 14 and CIRM so check that out.

CIRM is having a public meeting today about its future. You are welcome to participate. As Jensen notes, CIRM has a lot of information including 33 pages of ppt slides in just one presentation available for today’s meeting too. See screenshot below and you can watch live via YouTube below.

New grant funding already being planned

What does our state’s thumbs up for Prop 14 and CIRM mean in the big picture?

I’d say we’re looking at what I’d call CIRM 3.0. What do I mean? More on this below, but I have big expectations for the stem cell agency for the coming decade.

From the meeting materials, it looks like CIRM will likely allocate $182 million for funding and new RFAs in the first six months of 2021. This funding request includes $100 million for clinical work, $60 million for translational work, and $22 million for the more basic sciences-leaning Quest “discovery” awards.

Prop 14 California: Big Expectations for CIRM 3.0
CIRM’s goals from ppt 12/21/2020.

Prop 14 California: a state proposition gives national-level funding

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (the full name of CIRM) will now receive $5.5 billion for another 10+ years of research funding.

When numbers get into the billions it can be hard to really grasp their meaning.

In the case of California Prop 14, it means in the big picture that CIRM will be able to fund stem cell and regenerative medicine research on nearly the same kind of scale as NIH for years to come. It’s remarkable for a state agency to be in the same ballpark for grant funding of a certain kind of research as a federal government.

In fact, California’s funding of regenerative research in the coming decade or so will likely equal more spending than most countries devote to this area.

Prop 14 California: Big Expectations for CIRM 3.0
CIRM webinar with its CEO Maria Millan, Dr. Paul Knoepfler, and journalist Erin Allday. With passage of California Prop 14, Millan will continue leading the agency into a new phase.

CIRM 2.0 impact

When I first came to UC Davis as a new faculty member in 2006, CIRM was also fairly new and just getting momentum going as a new funding agency. I’ve watched it evolve over that time as it invented itself in a sense. I also was fortunate to receive a CIRM New Faculty grant early in my career that was a big boost to my lab.

Around the time that Randy Mills joined CIRM as its president for a few years, the agency took on a notably different, even more clinical vision than earlier on and sought to be more supportive of biotech. Since it became more translationally and clinically focused moving forward after that, I coined the term “CIRM 2.0” at the time for its somewhat new incarnation. Interestingly, CIRM itself and Mills starting using the “CIRM 2.0” language too after that.

I’d say that CIRM 2.0 was radical in a positive sense, both in terms of the size of its overall funding and the specific areas of impact. For example, if you set aside the somewhat arbitrary question of CIRM vs. NIH in terms of just the total size of the regenerative medicine-related funding, CIRM has funded different kinds of research than the feds too with a more clinical focus. There have been many concrete positive outcomes including contributions to dozens of clinical trials.

Now under Prop 14, I imagine we’ll see a shift in gears to some extent again, which is why I’m thinking of the agency as CIRM 3.0 moving forward.

Prop 14 California and CIRM 3.0: what will it bring?

I’m hoping to soon have an interview with CIRM leadership to address some questions that come to mind as we look forward. I may also do a follow up post based on today’s CIRM meeting.

As to the questions that come to mind, one is “does CIRM see itself as having a somewhat different mission moving ahead based on Prop 14 compared to its first period via Prop 71?” Even more clinical focus and anticipating CIRM-supported, FDA-approved regenerative medicine therapies getting to patients in the next period? You can see in the Prop 14 language that CIRM is leaning that way as it emphasizes keeping future regenerative medicine therapies more affordable.

As CIRM will expand its Board, how will it fill out its Board membership and other positions, particularly those of various kinds of leadership?

How much emphasis will CIRM place on educational outreach and ethics?

How will its apparent new inclusion of aging research and other new avenues be organized? With how much funding?

Looking ahead to CIRM’s future

The answers to these kinds of questions will help those of us who are interested parties to have a better sense of what the next decade-plus of CIRM will bring.

Now in the newly-approved round two of CIRM funding we can have fairly big expectations including in terms of clinical impact.

I expect several CIRM-backed, FDA-approved cell therapy or other biologics drugs to enter the market in this new period for the agency.

It’s an exciting time. There are likely to be new challenges and even headaches for the agency on the road ahead, but that just goes with the territory.

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