Stem cell therapies in the Golden State might soon see the light of day—and the clinic. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) announced last month that it will contribute up to $50 million toward early-stage clinical trials for cells derived from embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells.

The state stem cell agency has already put more than $1 billion toward basic research in human cell cultures and animal models, and CIRM made an initial foray into therapeutics last year with its early translational grant program. In this new initiative, however, “we want to complete the pipeline from discovery to phase 2 clinical trials,” CIRM president Alan Trounson told Nature Medicine.

Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, says the CIRM announcement is important for academic researchers who “have faced a major road block with venture capitalists and companies, who find these therapies too risky for their appetite.”

“With CIRM, we can finally fund this high-risk, but necessary, step,” he says.

The agency expects to select up to two awardees before the end of the year and provide each the lesser of $25 million or 50% of program costs. The money will be provided as a grant for nonprofit institutions and as a loan to businesses. Recipients are also required to provide matching funds.

Trials must take place in the state to qualify, and only companies or researchers with an investigational new drug (IND) application on file with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are eligible for funding. Currently, that leaves only two known projects in the running: a treatment for spinal cord injury by Menlo Park–based Geron and a therapy for Stargardt's macular dystrophy, a retinal disease, by Santa Monica–based Advanced Cell Technology.

“This kind of funding has been a long time coming,” notes William Caldwell, chief executive of Advanced Cell Technology, which is still awaiting a decision from the FDA on its IND application. Caldwell says that his company has not yet decided whether it will apply for the award. Geron, whose trial remains on hold by the FDA, did not respond to requests for comment.

Should these or other companies secure funding, CIRM expects to see results within three years of the trials' start dates. “If these projects are able to get going and we have the chance to see efficacy in these trials, then that will truly be an important step for the field,” Trounson says.