Grant Review and Funding Process

The committee recognizes the magnitude of CIRM’s successful effort to develop a grant management infrastructure within a remarkably short period of time following passage of Proposition 71. Given the complexity of this endeavor and the legislated limitation on staff size (initially no greater than 50 full-time equivalents), the overall success of this grant management infrastructure is impressive.

At the same time, CIRM’s credibility requires that the grant review process be expert, transparent, and fair. The committee has considerable concern about the role of the ICOC with regard to management versus oversight of CIRM activities, particularly for the grant-making process. The ICOC may move applications from one tier to another before taking a final vote. Examination of ICOC records indicates that the shifting of applications from one tier to another does occur, including some for major programs with large budgets. As of October 22, 2012, 62 extraordinary petitions were heard by the ICOC, of which 20 (32 percent) were successfully funded. The committee is troubled by the extraordinary petition mechanism and suggests that this practice be eliminated.

Given that membership of the ICOC includes individuals who have vested interests in which diseases are supported by grants and who represent institutions that stand to benefit greatly from grant-making decisions, it is not surprising that, even if no actions have been taken as a result of these interests, many in the community feel that irreconcilable conflicts exist. The committee believes these inherent and perceived conflicts diminish the credibility of the ICOC and therefore decrease its potential to be effective as a transparent, impartial body.

Recommendation 4-2. Restructure the Grant Review and Funding Process. CIRM should restructure the grant review and funding process to separate oversight and strategic planning from day-to-day operations. The ICOC should remain responsible for oversight and articulation of an overall strategic plan. However, grant management, funding recommendations, and grant administration should be the responsibility of the CIRM scientific staff, reporting to the president. This restructuring would help mitigate concerns related to conflicts of interest and would also put the review and funding process in the hands of those best equipped to make those decisions.

The committee recommends several changes pertaining to the development and approval of RFAs, composition of the Grants Working

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