This whole month we have highlighted CIRM and have taken a look back at what has been accomplished since the organization was created in 2004. We end our month of CIRM with a letter from our President & CEO Maria T. Millan, M.D.
As we move onward into 2021, I can’t help but reflect on the magnitude of CIRM’s reach and impact since its inception and the tremendous opportunities we have going forward!
Just look at the 68 clinical trials funded to date by CIRM; an amalgam that is representative of the numerous approaches in precision medicine for various disease areas. As highlighted in the sickle cell disease webinar with CIRM’s Senior Science Officer Ingrid Caras, Ph.D, we took a tour of CIRM’s clinical trials and heard from Evie Junior, a sickle cell disease patient who described his inclusion in the trial as a lifechanging experience that gives him hope for a better future. The convergence of committed researchers and tremendous scientific advancements in California brings us closer to a cure for sickle cell. The CIRM funded work of Dr. Mark Walters’ at UCSF and Dr. Matt Porteus’ of Stanford each utilize the powerful CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology of California’s recent Nobel laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna in different ways to correct the underlying mutation in Sickle Cell Disease. Each of these curative intent therapies have received FDA clearance to advance to clinical testing.
In my recent interview with Moderna’s co-founder Dr. Derrick Rossi, we heard about how Dr. Rossi, initially trained as a molecular biologist, pursued his post-doctoral training in stem cell research at Stanford in the lab of Dr. Weissman. He was funded by one of CIRM’s education grants and was in the first crop of “CIRM Scholars.” He then went on to develop the novel mRNA technology in his own stem cell lab at Harvard, the same mRNA technology that was spun out and further developed by the company, Moderna. When COVID-19 hit and the viral sequence was published, Moderna was able to rapidly deploy this revolutionary mRNA technology and, within 11 months, delivered a rigorously tested, FDA approved, highly efficacious vaccine. Dr. Rossi’s story certainly highlights the value of investments in educating and training the scientists and workforce of tomorrow in the evolving field of stem cell science and regenerative medicine.
This past November, Californians reaffirmed their commitment to CIRM by approving Proposition 14 and an additional $5.5 billion investment. With deep gratitude for the opportunity to continue our mission to advance science and regenerative medicine treatments to patients in need, we wasted no time in re-opening funding opportunities to support discovery stage, translational and clinical research. Additional programs are underway as we build up our team, upgrade operations and develop our Strategic Plan. We have already “hardwired” provisions into our research programs that empower our researchers to incorporate considerations of diversity, equity and inclusion. There is more work to be done and we are up to that challenge. I am so proud of the CIRM team including the Review team, Therapeutics team, Discovery & Translation team, Grants Management, Finance, Administration, Communications, Business Development, and Legal. This team never slowed down even when we did not know what the outcome of Proposition 14 would be. When the votes came in and Proposition 14 passed, the Team suited up and headed for the launch pad!
We remain fully committed to accelerating scientific advancements and treatments to patients in need. We also respect that good medicine is born from good science and good science takes time and patience. As a philosopher once said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” CIRM is in the position to leverage the successes and lessons learned from its Prop 71 days of 2004-2020. With the formal passage of Prop 14 in December 2020, CIRM will now leverage its “value proposition” and the collective intellectual capital of its robust ecosystem to chart new paths forward in partnership with the broader community!