Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Geron shuts down embryonic stem cell research program

After promoting the promise of human embryonic stem cells for more than a decade, the Washington Post and the New York Times both place the story of Geron in their respective business sections. The New York Times story even tries really hard to make it seem like this isn't a huge blow to the embryonic stem cell research field.

From the Times:
The company conducting the world’s first clinical trial of a therapy using human embryonic stem cells said on Monday that it was halting that trial and leaving the stem cell business entirely.

The company, Geron, said that its move did not reflect a lack of promise for the controversial field. Rather, it said, with money scarce, it had decided to focus on its experimental cancer therapies, which are further along in development......

So far four patients have been treated. Dr. Scarlett of Geron said that there were "no signs" that the treatment was helping the patients. But that was not expected in the initial trial, which was mainly looking at safety. And so far, he said, there had been no sign of safety problems......

By dropping the stem cell program — the company is cutting its work force by 66 people, or 38 percent — Geron will be able to last without needing to raise new money until it receives results of clinical trials of its cancer drugs over the next 18 months. By contrast, Dr. Scarlett said, given all the precautions in the stem cell field, he did not think there would be results from the stem cell trial until 2014.

Dr. Scarlett said that Geron hoped to sell or license the stem cell program to another company that would continue it.

So far, though, many big pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have been wary about trying to develop therapies using embryonic stem cells because of the political controversies and scientific and economic uncertainties.

Related: WaPo's story on the first patient treated with human embryonic stem cells.

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