Stem cells: Californian research funds start to flow

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine – set up in November 2004 when voters agreed to provide $3bn in funding for stem cell research – is finally moving ahead at full speed, after many delays caused by legal challenges and uncertainties over selling the state bonds that will fund it.

Today Alan Trounson, CIRM president, told the World Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress in London: “We have invested $1bn of our $3bn, in research grants and some expenditure on major facilities.”

The latest round of grants was announced two weeks ago after the state confirmed a successful bond sale, with 15 awards made to move basic research into the clinic.

Two of these “translational grants” were made to biotech companies, Novocell and BioTime, rather than academic labs – a sign of CIRM’s wish to work more closely with industry.

“There will be more and more opportunity for biotech companies to access funding, either as grants or loans,” Trounson told the London meeting. “The connection with the pharmaceutical industry is very important too.”

As CIRM flexes its financial muscle as the world’s largest source of stem cell research funds – and the Obama Administration relaxes George W Bush’s restrictions on federal support for embryonic stem cell research – European scientists may find the prospect of a move across the Atlantic irresistible.

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.