Breakout One — Os Steward (and Jerry Silver)

The way this works is, we’re out of the big ballroom and into a smaller, more intimate place.  Os is standing against a table with arms folded, casual, facing 20 or 25 of us.  I’m late and the questions are about what’s holding up research. (Jerry Silver is off to one side, pitching in with the answers)

Q: Is it lack of collaboration?

That’s a common perception . . . in SCI I really believe that we’re very collaborative.  The problem isn’t that we don’t WANT to do it, it’s finding out HOW to do it.  Sharing data isn’t collaborating.

I’ve been blessed with private funding that allows me to move people off other projects, which I can’t do if I’m paying people on a grant.  The bottleneck is the funding.

NIH does have some multi-investigator grants, but they’re hesitant about giving great big sums all at once.

Q: What about competition — don’t you compete for grants?  We do . . . it used to be that you could get funded even if you were in the middle of the pack.  Now people are trying to choose the best 8 or 9% of all the applicants.

The pten work requires us to go into animal models . . . these aren’t innovative studies, they’re not ground-breaking.  That kind of project doesn’t get funded, because everyone is looking for the next big idea.  (that’s depressing)  This is one of several valleys of death.

Q: If we were to start collecting around the Manhattan project, what would that look like?  What would those steps be?

I threw that out as a challenge . . . but the fact is that if someone said they had $1B, it would happen.  I directed the way we spent the Roman Reed funds; I’d just established RIRC and the state gave the funds to the university, who gave them to us.  I called a town hall meeting.  We sat in open session all day long and at the end of the day came up with a plan.  The point of the story is that people are perfectly able to come together to make something happen . . . a Manhattan project for SCI would take a lot of time, obviously more than a one-day town hall, and a lot more careful planning.  And if I were to take that on (directing it, he means), I’d have to fire everybody in my lab because I wouldn’t have any money to pay them. (again, kind of discouraging)

Think about the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) approach, which is to see the process as a kind of long train, with engines needed for each of the cars.  The engines are the individual labs with their individual skill sets.  I have a lot of expertise in the basic science part of things, but not so much in the next phase.  CIRM breaks up the money so that each car is being pulled efficiently by the engine that has the most power for that task . . . so to speak.

Money . . . $1B would be awesome, but in Os’ lab $50k is HUGE.  That’s one more person working for a year to get more accomplished.  They rejoice over that kind of money.  $100k is somebody capable of managing a couple of people.  Again, HUGE.

Talking about how come gene therapy targeted specificially to neurons isn’t a cancer worry — because cancers don’t arise from them.  (If I understood that right.)

We know that no matter how much you boost up the ability of nerve cells to grow, they’re not going to get past the cavity that exists around the lesion.  Tomorrow Mark Tuzskiinski is going to talk about using stem cells to fill that void . . . having said that, the problem becomes how to test each of these separately in an FDA-compliant way.

Suppose we wanted to knock down both pten and socs 3, we could do it, but then we’d have to add Mark’s stem cells, and that would be another set of FDA tests.

Still, think about how the FDA actually works — you start with a pre-IND meeting, in which you talk about what will need to happen and plan. (Meaning, it’s not like they just force you to keep doing things over and over because they don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish . . . you start by telling them what you plan to accomplish, and they work with you to set up an efficient path to get there.)

Q: Are you targeting acute or chronic?

We hope that what we’re working on will work for both . . . as Bob Yant said earlier, it’s faster to work with acutes to find out what you want to know.

Comment: It seems like mathematical craziness to do human trials with acutes, because you don’t have a population to work with.

Okay, let’s say you only found an effect in acute models, like in the Geron trials.  The transplants into acutes worked, the ones into chronics didn’t.

Martin Codyre is arguing that we should always be doing chronic studies . . . Jerry Silver gets up to agree with him.  He says we should just spend the money and do it.  If you believe in your science, if you think you’ve got something that works, why not be focused on working out the problems that the chronic cord throws at you — namely, the big scar.

Breaking to post this . . . we’re going right on to Breakout two with Jerry Silver

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2 Comments on “Breakout One — Os Steward (and Jerry Silver)”

  1. Gooo Martin Gooooooooo!

    Gooo Jerry Goooooooooooooo!

  2. […]  Dr Steward saying that if there were $1 Billion, the Manhattan Project would happen.  Dr. Silver saying that […]

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