The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine awarded $9.3 million Thursday to Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluebird Bio and $10.1 million to ViaCyte Inc. of San Diego.
Bluebird is using stem cells and gene therapy to target young patients with the blood disorder beta-thalassemia. ViaCyte is working on an embryonic stem cell-based therapy for patients with insulin-dependent diabetes.
The awards are important because San Francisco-based CIRM, which is funded by California state bonds after voters in 2004 approved Proposition 71, to date has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on basic science and supporting the construction of new stem cell science buildings at places like the University of California, San Francisco, Stanford University and theBuck Institute for Age Research in Novato.
I spoke recently with David Davidson, chief medical officer of Bluebird Bio, about the company’s experimental stem cell treatment, called LentiGlobin, how a Massachusetts company came to win money from a California taxpayer-funded initiative (the answer might surprise you) and Bluebird’s upcoming clinical trial.