This week the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which is the California state body responsible for stem-cell research funding, and two international partners in Canada and the United Kingdom, announced awards totaling $230 million to 14 research teams in California, Canada, and the UK to develop stem-cell-based therapies for 11 diseases. The funding, in the form of four-year grants, marks the first CIRM funding that is explicitly expected to result in filings with the US Food and Drug Administration for initial human clinical testing of therapies based on stem-cell research, according to a CIRM press release.
CIRM was established in early 2005 following the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, which provided $3 billion in funding for stem-cell research at California universities and research institutions and called for the establishment of a new state agency to make grants and provide loans for stem-cell research, research facilities, and other research opportunities. In the recent funding announcement, CIRM is providing the bulk of the funding. The UK’s Medical Research Council is providing $8 million, and Canada’s Stem Cell Consortium is providing $35 million to fund the international portions of the research collaborations.
To speed the process of establishing clinical trials for the stem-cell-based therapies, the research teams receiving the funding will include basic scientists and clinicians from academia and industry. “Scientists have talked for years about the need to find ways to speed the pace of discovery,” said CRM President Alan Trounson in the CIRM release. “By encouraging applicants to form teams composed of the best researchers from around the world, we think CIRM will set a new standard for how translational research should be funded.”
Ten of the 14 disease-team projects being financed involve the use of “adult” stem cells, many involved in cancer treatments, and four projects will involve the use of human embroynic stem cells. Some project highlights include the use of neural stem cells for developing treatments for brain cancer, the development of three monoclonal antibodies and three small molecules for destroying leukemia stem cells, RNAi-based therapies to produce T-cells resistant to HIV infection, a gene-therapy approach to modify blood-forming stem cells to produce red blood cells, and using cardiac stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue .
The diversity of the disease targets from these research projects shows the promise of regenerative medicine in pharmaceutical research and development, and the recent funding is a good start toward realizing its potential.