Relationship building in San Diego: Bringing investors into regenerative medicine

CIRM is cosponsoring the Investor and Partnering Forum at the Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa in San Diego. It’s an effort to build relationships between investors, companies, and entrepreneurial academics.

Stem cells have been in the news a lot lately thanks to Nobel prizes and scientific discoveries. But for many biotech companies all the good news is scant consolation if they can’t get the money they need to do the research that’s required to bring promising therapies to market.

That message was driven home on the first day of the annual Stem Cells Meeting on the Mesa  at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego. It’s a gathering of some of the top scientific researchers, industry pioneers and investors. The goal is to bring together the leaders in the field to create new partnerships and advance stem cell science into cures. But when Robert Parlay, Chairman and CEO of stem cell manufacturing company Cellular Dynamics International, got up to talk to the audience and asked for a show of hands from all the investors in the room, only a few people in a room of a few hundred raised their hands.

It was a powerful visual indicator of just how difficult it is for even leading biotech and other companies to attract the investment they need. It’s also a reminder of just how important the stem cell agency is in filling that gap. Without our funding the picture would be even more grim.

Just last week the CIRM governing board approved almost $20 million in funding two biotech companies – ViaCyte, Inc. and bluebird bio – in the first round of our Strategic Partnership Award initiative (here’s our press release). It’s an effort to attract more industry engagement and investment into stem cell research.

Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times recently interviewed Bluebird Bio chief medical officer David Davidson about the company’s CIRM funding. He said:

Partnering with California and our investigators in California is essential for the success of this study. California has more patients with beta-thalassemia than any other state. There are world-renowned experts in the field there who we are working with. This is really essential for the success of the study.

Stem Cells on the Mesa shows that there are many companies who would love to be more engaged, who would love to be able to do more, all they need is the money.

Many speakers at the meeting spoke out loudly in praise of CIRM and the funding we provide to help drive the most promising science towards clinical trials. Jonathan Thomas, CIRM Chairman, echoed those sentiments saying: “One of the things we talk a lot about at CIRM is how we can work even more closely with industry, helping companies advance the ball.”

That doesn’t just mean with funding from us but also with advice on how to navigate the regulatory process, how to work with the FDA, and how to partner with the big pharmaceutical companies who have access to enormous resources

“We are placing real emphasis on trying to get Big Pharma to work with companies earlier on in the process,” Thomas said. “We have Big Pharma coming to us, looking for introductions to the most promising work. We are happy to do that because it gives them access to good projects and gives the researchers and industry access to the funds they need to take their products to market.”

It’s exciting being at a meeting like this, filled with so many talented people who are passionate about the work they do and believe in the promise of stem cell research to deliver therapies and cures.

As Jonathan Thomas pointed out, events like this are a reminder why the people of California are so important to the future of stem cell research. Their support makes it possible for meetings like Stem Cells on the Mesa to take place, and possible for everyone involved to talk in terms of cures instead of lost opportunities.

K.M.

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