As this blog has previously reported (here, here, and here), the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has over the years been steadily moving away from its founding mission of giving funding priority to human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR). Instead, since 2009 it updated its strategic plan to give priority to funding projects most likely to result in clinical trials; accordingly CIRM has been providing ever larger amounts of funding to adult stem cell and other ethically non-contentious research alternatives to hESCR.
CIRM’s most recent round of research grants, the Early Translational IV Research Awards, again confirms this trend. According to CIRM, “the Early Translational Research Initiative aims to fund and advance potentially transformative stem cell therapies towards IND [Investigational New Drug]-enabling preclinical and clinical development.”
In the fourth round of grants under this Initiative, announced in late August, only two of the thirteen grants awarded were for projects using hESCs, while 10 grants were for research using adult, induced pluripoternt stem cells (iPSCs) and other non-embryonic stem cell approaches. Of the total $40.6 million in grants awarded, projects using ethically non-contentious alternatives to hESR received $34.1 million; research using human embryonic stem cells received $6.4 million.
A look at previous grants under the Early Translational Research Awards category clearly confirms CIRM’s developing preference for non-embryonic stem cell research as the best path leading to actual clinical trials.
The first round of such grants came in 2009. Fifteen grants were awarded; nine for hESCR (three of which also included iPSCs) with the remaining six going to research using adult and/or induced pluripotent stem cells.
With the second round of Early Translational grants in 2010 a clear preference for funding non-hESCR emerges. The number of funded projects using adult or induced pluripotent stem cells doubled from the previous year to 12, while only five projects were funded using hESCs.
In 2012, a third round of Early Translational grants was awarded. Fifteen, or just over 70% of the 21 total grants awarded went to adult and induced pluripotent stem cell research; the remaining 6 grants went to hESCR projects.
In the 2013 round of grants, the percentage of those going to non-hESCR increased to 77%. The number of grants given to hESCR in 2013 fell to just 15% of the total, the lowest percentage since the first round of Translational grants in 2009, when hESCR received 60% of total grants awarded.
The old Watergate-era adage advises that one should “follow the money” to really get to the truth of the matter.
In the case of CIRM’s research grants over the past several years, the truth is that when you follow the money, you find yet more evidence that the future of regenerative medicine is with iPSCs, adult stem cells and other ethically non-contentious alternatives to human embryonic stem cell research.