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When you are trying to do something that has never been done before, there are bound to be challenges to meet and obstacles to overcome. At the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) we are used to coming up with great ideas and hearing people ask “Well, how are you going to do that?”
Our new 5-year Strategic Plan is how. It’s the roadmap that will help guide us as we work to overcome critical bottlenecks in bringing regenerative medicine therapies to people in need.
Providing more than money
People often think of CIRM as a funding agency, providing the money needed to do research. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. With every project we fund, we also offer a lot of support. That’s particularly true at the clinical stage, where therapies are being tested in people. Projects we fund in clinical trials don’t just get money, they also have access to:
- Alpha Stem Cells Clinic Network – This is a group of specialized medical centers that have the experience and expertise to deliver new stem cell and gene therapies.
- The CIRM Cell and Gene Therapy Center – This helps with developing projects, overcoming manufacturing problems, and offers guidance on working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get permission to run clinical trials.
- CIRM Clinical Advisory Panels (CAPs) – These are teams put together to help advise researchers on a clinical trial and to overcome problems. A crucial element of a CAP is a patient advocate who can help design a trial around the needs of the patients, to help with patient recruitment and retention.
Partnering with key stakeholders
Now, we want to build on this funding model to create new ways to support researchers in bringing their work to patients. This includes earlier engagement with regulators like the FDA to ensure that projects match their requirements. It includes meetings with insurers and other healthcare stakeholders, to make sure that if a treatment is approved, that people can get access to it and afford it.
In the past, some in the regenerative medicine field thought of the FDA as an obstacle to approval of their work. But as David Martin, a CIRM Board member and industry veteran says, the FDA is really a key ally.
“Turning a promising drug candidate into an approved therapy requires overcoming many bottlenecks… CIRM’s most effective and committed partner in accelerating this is the FDA.”
Removing barriers to manufacturing
Another key area highlighted in our Strategic Plan is overcoming manufacturing obstacles. Because these therapies are “living medicines” they are complex and costly to produce. There is often a shortage of skilled technicians to do the jobs that are needed, and the existing facilities may not be able to meet the demand for mass production once the FDA gives permission to start a clinical trial.
To address all these issues CIRM wants to create a California Manufacturing Network that combines academic innovation and industry expertise to address critical manufacturing bottlenecks. It will also coordinate training programs to help build a diverse and expertly trained manufacturing workforce.
CIRM will work with academic institutions that already have their own manufacturing facilities (such as UC Davis) to help develop improved ways of producing therapies in sufficient quantities for research and clinical trials. The Manufacturing Network will also involve industry partners who can develop facilities capable of the large-scale production of therapies that will be needed when products are approved by the FDA for wider use.
CIRM, in collaboration with this network, will also help develop education and hands-on training programs for cell and gene therapy manufacturing at California community colleges and universities. By providing internships and certification programs we will help create a talented, diverse workforce that is equipped to meet the growing demands of the industry.
You can read more about these goals in our 2022-27 Strategic Plan.