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UCI Awarded $8M Grant for Stem Cell ‘Alpha Center’

Clinical Research for 20 Diseases and Cancers

The University of California, Irvine, which already has won much acclaim in stem cell research, recently received further confirmation of its status as an “alpha” in the industry.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine recently designated a UCI unit at its School of Medicine as one of its “Alpha Clinics” and awarded an $8 million grant.

The goal of the statewide network is to accelerate the development of promising stem cell and gene therapies and expand patient access to them through clinical trials approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The clinic will spend the $8 million in three different areas: hiring well-trained research professionals; training researchers and doctors to conduct trials on a larger scale; and partnering with area hospitals to train new generations of physicians about technology available.

Currently, the UCI Alpha Clinic conducts more than 60 clinical trials in more than 20 different diseases and supports 77 clinical physician-investigators. Its key clinical trial portfolio includes neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease or stroke, blindness including macular degeneration and burns and cancers like breast or ovarian.

“It takes a lot of expertise to conduct that work,” Dr. Daniela Bota, director of the UCI Alpha Clinic and UCI School of Medicine’s vice dean for clinical research, told the Business Journal. “We’re trying to transfer that technology.

“Our unique focus on cell and gene therapy clinical trials for neurological diseases and cancer will increase access for our patients and empower us to lead the way in bringing novel regenerative treatments into the Alpha Clinics Network.”

Prop 71

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was created in 2004 when voters approved Prop. 71, giving it $3 billion. In 2020, voters approved Prop. 14, giving the agency an additional $5.5 billion to fund stem cell research in California. It currently has more than 150 active stem cell programs in its portfolio, making it one of the world’s largest institutions dedicated to bringing cellular medicine closer to reality.

UCI, which has received 63 awards totaling $151.5 million in grants from the institute, has a long track record with stem cell research.

The UCI Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center has made extensive infrastructure investments, including two new research clinics, a production facility to manufacture FDA-compliant cell and gene therapies and a cell processing laboratory. It too has been called an “Alpha Center” by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

A former UCI professor, Dr. Hans Keirstead, has become an internationally recognized stem cell expert who has successfully treated spinal injuries. In addition, he’s built and sold four companies; in September, he won a Business Journal Innovator of the Year award.

Bota said other UCI researchers conducting groundbreaking work include Dr. Aileen Anderson for spinal sports injuries, Dr. Leslie Thompson for Huntington’s Disease and Dr. Henry Klassen for retinal regeneration.

The newest $8 million grant will permit the UCI Alpha Clinic to put together a hub-and-spoke model to lead cell and gene therapy efforts within the university’s academic health system and in close collaboration with its academic partners in a four-county area.

Other facilities thus far in the network include the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach and VA locations in Orange and Los Angeles counties, Children’s Hospital of Orange County and community hospitals in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.
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