What everybody needs to know about CIRM: where has the money gone

It’s been almost ten years since the voters of California created the Stem Cell Agency when they overwhelmingly approved Proposition 71, providing us $3 billion to help fund stem cell research.

In the last ten years we have made great progress – we will have ten projects that we are funding in or approved to begin clinical trials by the end of this year, a really quite remarkable achievement – but clearly we still have a long way to go. However, it’s appropriate as we approach our tenth anniversary to take a look at how we have spent the money, and how much we have left.

Of the $3 billion Prop 71 generates around $2.75 billion was set aside to be awarded to research, build laboratories etc. The rest was earmarked for things such as staff and administration to help oversee the funding and awards.

Of the research pool here’s how the numbers break down so far:

  • $1.9B awarded
  • $1.4B spent
  • $873M not awarded

So what’s the difference between awarded and spent? Well, unlike some funding agencies when we make an award we don’t hand the researcher all the cash at once and say “let us know what you find.” Instead we set a series of targets or milestones that they have to reach and they only get the next installment of the award as they meet each milestone. The idea is to fund research that is on track to meet its goals. If it stops meetings its goals, we stop funding it.

Right now our Board has awarded $1.9B to different institutions, companies and researchers but only $1.4B of that has gone out. And of the remainder we estimate that we will get around $100M back either from cost savings as the projects progress or from programs that are cancelled because they failed to meet their goals.

So we have approximately $1B for our Board to award to new research, which means at our current rate of spending we’ll have enough money to be able to continue funding new projects until around 2020. Because these are multi-year projects we will continue funding them till around 2023 when those projects end and, theoretically at least, we run out of money.

But we are already working hard to try and ensure that the well doesn’t run dry, and that we are able to develop other sources of funding so we can continue to support this work. Without us many of these projects are at risk of dying. Having worked so hard to get these projects to the point where they are ready to move out of the laboratory and into clinical trials in people we don’t want to see them fall by the wayside for lack of support.

Of the $1.9B we have awarded, that has gone to 668 awards spread out over five different categories:

CIRM spending Oct 2014

Increasingly our focus is on moving projects out of the lab and into people, and in those categories – called ‘translational’ and ‘clinical’ – we have awarded almost $630M in funding for more than 80 active programs.


Under our new CIRM 2.0 plan we hope to speed up the number of projects moving into clinical trials. You can read more about how we plan on doing there in this blog.

It took Jonas Salk almost 15 years to develop a vaccine for polio but those years of hard work ended up saving millions of lives. We are working hard to try and achieve similar results on dozens of different fronts, with dozens of different diseases. That’s why, in the words of our President & CEO Randy Mills, we come to work every day as if lives depend on us, because lives depend on us.

3 thoughts on “What everybody needs to know about CIRM: where has the money gone

  1. I’m glad to see all the money going to research and new hope for cures along with it but I’m bothered by the way private for-profit companies get all the financial benefits from taxpayer funds. Private companies walk in the door and buy exclusive rights to a drug or treatment for a fraction of what taxpayers paid for the research that lead to the treatment. Then, those companies turn around and price gouge the same taxpayers/patients who paid for the research. In one example I’ve been watching, taxpayers have invested approximately $66 million in research to get to trials and a pharma company has just walked in and purchased exclusive rights to the treatment for $20 million. Because that pharma company was given exclusive rights without any price controls to paybacks for research, they basically pocketed $46 million in taxpayers funds as corporate welfare and they will probably charge a fortune for the treatment when it hits the market because they can. I love CIRM but I don’t like corporate welfare and I think patients/taxpayers should be paid back for that research investment or no for-profit company should be able to purchase exclusive rights.

  2. I completely agree with you I have been researching companies like Organovo, who specifically has said they are doing research and primarily for drug development. Well, people are waiting for this research to go forward. Was it not written into the original proposition that this research would benefit the people?Did we just take it for granted that we the people would benefit from this? When our former president took it away from us, Californians voted to go forward. California’s residents have bank rolled these companies, I know that they have to keep on top of research and that this race is competitive, but we have been robbed as a people. ” Too Big To Fail ” was the last phrase to identify the profits the corporations so easily had access to. Big pharma wins again. Maybe we need specifics of what is really being done. Then we need another vote and re-wright this legislation .I’m going to look up the legislation and how it was written.

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