Charting a new, faster way to fund science and help patients

Change is never easy. In fact, sometimes it can be downright hard. But change is also essential if you want to grow, to get faster and better.

When we launched CIRM 2.0 we set out to produce a better, faster, more effective and efficient way to deliver stem cell therapies to patients with unmet medical needs. Yesterday we got a chance to see how those changes are starting to play out. And it was very encouraging.

Our Grants Working Group (GWG – we love our acronyms at CIRM. See!) is the independent panel of experts that we bring in to review all the applications for agency funding. They come from all over the US, except California, and Monday was the first chance they got to meet in person and vote on our new 2.0 applications.

The day began with a really in-depth look at how 2.0 works and how it differs quite dramatically from the old system. One of the things that always impresses me about the GWG is the extraordinary quality of the questions they ask and the level of detail they want to help them make the best possible decisions. While we would never divulge any applicant’s confidential or proprietary information, we were able to hold much of the meeting in open session – furthering our commitment to transparency.

I think Sen. Art Torres, the Vice Chair and a Patient Advocate member of our governing Board, summed it up best in a note that he sent to the CIRM Team following the meeting:

“Yesterday was a historic day for CIRM.  It was one of the best meetings I have attended and gave me renewed confidence in speaking to the public of how we continue to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars while at the same time keeping patients as our number one priority.

I cannot speak for all the patient advocates but I think they were all impressed with the candor and meaningful dialogue that took place.

It also gave the GWG members time to bond in a very welcoming setting to express their ideas and their commitments.  I do not recall ever having a session with GWG members where they shared their personal views other than their reviews of a proposed grant.  It was revealing about how we can work more closely together with our common bonds.”

The results of the review of the first two applications under CIRM 2.0 will go to the Board for a vote on May 21, but the more important outcome will be the long-term benefit to the way we work. The in-person meeting helped the members of the GWG really understand how the changes to the way they work will speed up our ability to fund the most promising science.

This is all new, so it’s likely we’ll hit some bumps along the way. And as we roll out our new versions of 2.0 that cover funding Discovery (or basic) and Translational research later this year we’ll probably have more adjustments to make. You can’t change this much this fast and not run into problems.

But as the meeting yesterday showed so clearly, with the right team behind you even the biggest changes can be taken in stride.

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