The Scientific and Medical Research Funding Working Group, designated in most CIRM materials as the Grants Working Group (GWG), is the entity charged with reviewing scientific proposals and making recommendations to the ICOC with respect to those that should be funded. The GWG is appointed by the ICOC and consists of 23 members, including the chair of the ICOC, 7 of the 10 ICOC patient advocates, and 15 non-California scientists known for their expertise in stem cell biology (CIRM, 2009f, 2012g). The 15 scientists are selected based on the particulars of the individual RFAs and are drawn from a pool of more than 150 individuals chosen by CIRM as highly qualified to review proposals. Participation of these experts, none of whom, as non-Californians, is eligible for CIRM funding and stand to gain directly from CIRM, is instrumental in providing the rigorous scientific review required for making funding decisions. The success that CIRM has had in commissioning outstanding review committees for each of its RFAs is a testament both to the Institute’s stature in the eyes of the stem cell community and the willingness of stem cell scientists outside of California to contribute their time and effort to facilitate the work of their California colleagues
Full proposals received by CIRM by the RFA deadline are entered into the CIRM database, and all GWG members assigned to this review cycle declare any conflicts of interest with any of the applications (CIRM, 2009g). Any GWG member in conflict for a particular application is recused during discussions, scoring, and final voting. The GWG members are then assigned applications for which no conflict exists based on their unique expertise. Typically, three external scientists review each application. The GWG can call on additional specialist reviewers as needed if its own expertise is insufficient to evaluate the science in any individual application adequately. Prior to the GWG’s face-to-face meeting, each reviewer and ad hoc specialist submits a scientific score (1-100, with 100 being best) and a written critique for each assigned application. A meeting of the GWG is then announced on the CIRM website. This meeting starts with a session open to the public, during which GWG business is conducted. The GWG then meets in closed session for a two-stage review of the applications (CIRM, 2011g).
The first stage of the review is scientific in nature, led by the chair of the GWG (an external scientist member appointed to this role by the ICOC). The assigned reviewers declare their scores for the application being discussed and briefly summarize the basis for their recommendations. This is followed by full discussion of the application by GWG members, ending with the assigned reviewers suggesting revised scores based on the discussion. Each scientific member of the GWG not in conflict with that application then submits a final scientific score. Although ad hoc specialist reviewers can suggest scores in their written evaluations and, if present, during the discussion, only GWG members can submit a final score.