Stem cell institute gearing up to distribute research funds

By Adam Martin

Staff Writer

With two legal victories behind them, officials with the state's stem cell agency Monday began deciding how to distribute more than $3 billion in government funding over the next decade.

At the first meeting of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, a group of institute officials and experts began the process of deciding how to disburse the $300 million per year the state of California has pledged toward stem cell research over the next 10 years.

The institute's funding has been held up since two lawsuits in Alameda County Superior Court challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 71. On Monday, a decision handed down by Judge Bonnie Sabraw on April 21 affirming the proposition's constitutionality became final. Unless the decision is appealed, it will clear the way for Prop. 71 money to start flowing into the institute.

The Planning Advisory Committee is tasked with creating a set of guidelines for the distribution of the state money to researchers. “How do you best spend $3 billion over 10 years? That's the question the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee is trying to answer,” institute spokeswoman Nicole Pagano said.

Committee members heard input from members of the public and several experts Monday. They are currently in the information-gathering phase of their project, and are scheduled to present a draft of the plan to the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee in October.

During the plan's development, the committee will hold regular public meetings. Institute President Zach Hall said the institute wants to “carry out development of the plan in a transparent way.”

John Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said he approves of the way the institute is formulating its spending plan. “It is tremendously encouraging to see that it was done in public,” he said.

Simpson said the silver lining in the delay caused by the litigation is that it gives the institute the opportunity to carefully plan how to distribute grants.

Pagano said the institute would have used the same care whether it had been delayed by litigation or not. “The strategic plan is a very important aspect of what this agency is about,” she said.

amartin@examiner.com

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