The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine may reach a milestone of sorts Wednesday when its governing board will vote on whether to fund a clinical trial involving a therapy derived from stem cells. It would be a first for CIRM, which was created with the passage of Proposition 71 to invest $3 billion in stem cell research over 10 years.
In its early years, the state agency focused on giving money to scientists working on the basics of stem cell biology, but CIRM spokesman Don Gibbons told Booster Shots that funding a clinical trial "follows the strategic plan laid out in 2006." That plan called on the agency to "support and advance stem cell research and regenerative medicine ... for the discovery and development of cures, therapies, diagnostics and research technologies to relieve human suffering from chronic disease and injury."
If the grant goes through, it may also be one more demonstration of a recent emphasis at CIRM on funding closer-to-fruition research that might get treatments to market.
"If we went 10 years and had no clinical treatments, it would be a failure," the institute's president, Alan Trounson, told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.
The clinical trial grant under consideration Wednesday would provide almost $25 million to a California company that is developing a spinal cord injury treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells. According to a summary of the company's application posted on CIRM's website, patients with paralysis from spinal cord injuries will receive increasing doses of stem-cell-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, which can help stimulate growth of nerve cells after injury and also produce myelin, insulation that helps electrical signals travel through nerve cells. Researchers have found that paralyzed rats treated with such progenitor cells can regain their ability to walk and run.
Because of CIRM rules, Gibbons could not provide the name of the company running the trial. But some observers speculate that it is probably Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which began a clinical trial using the experimental cells last year. The trial is the first to test a therapy made using human embryonic stem cells.
CIRM (@cirmnews) will live-tweet the vote Wednesday morning.
Karen Kaplan of the Los Angeles Times reported last year on the apparent shift at CIRM from funding basic science to seeking cures for disease.
Also last year, Kaplan blogged about Geron's clinical trial.