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Geron abandons stem-cell research

geron.logo.jpgA company that pioneered embryonic-stem-cell research is walking out on the field it helped to create. Geron, based in Menlo Park, California, announced yesterday that it would kill off its stem-cell programme — and its landmark clinical trial of a treatment for spinal-cord injuries — so that it can focus on cancer therapies.

For supporters of the technology, Geron’s exit is a blow. “This is very unfortunate for the field,” says Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Santa Monica, California, the only other embryonic-stem-cell company with regulatory approval to conduct clinical trials in the United States. “It is a big deal. It certainly puts a lot of pressure on us to deliver now.”

Geron was the first company to gain approval from US regulators to conduct a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells. The company has treated four patients with spinal-cord injuries since launching the trial in 2010 and has reported that the treatments seem to be safe, although they have not yielded any improvement in spinal-cord function. The trial was designed only to test safety, however, and Geron has made it clear from the start that the company did not expect the treatment regimen — including the number of cells injected — to be sufficient to relieve paralysis in the eight patients it ultimately aimed to treat in its first trial.

It has not been easy to be first. It took Geron years and an infamous 21,000-page application to the US Food and Drug Administration to get permission to conduct the trial. The company’s new chief executive, John Scarlett, said the decision to axe the programme would free up needed financial resources without forcing the company to raise more money. “This would not be possible if we continue to fund the stem cell program at the current levels,” he wrote in a statement. The decision will also allow the company to trim 38% of its workforce.

In May, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a stem-cell research funding agency supported by state taxpayers, awarded Geron a US$25-million loan to support the spinal-cord injury trial. In a statement, CIRM announced that Geron has today repaid the $6.42 million it had already received, with interest.

Geron says that it is now looking for partners to pick up its stem cell assets.


  1. Report this comment

    David Granovsky said:



    If stem cell treatments were a boxing match, Embryonic stem cell treatments would be the 500 lb Gorilla and Adult stem cell treatments would be the small, unknown underdog. Today, the Gorilla threw in the towel! What would cause the leading Embryonic stem cell Pharmaceutical company with multiple Embryonic stem cell products in development to end all of their Embryonic stem cell programs? What does it mean for patients who were waiting with desperate hope for the benefits of Embryonic stem cells?

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    James Eliason said:

    @David Granovsky, It is clear you know nothing about science of stem cells or the history of funding of stem cell research. With respect to funding, adult stem cells are the “500 lb Gorilla”, not embryonic stem cells. Over the time that adult stem cells have been studied, one would have to guess that funding has been several thousand fold that for embryonic stem cell research. The numbers of researchers involved in adult stem cell research similarly out weigh those in embryonic stem cell research. Researchers in the later category are highly likely to also study adult stem cells. You ask what does this mean for patients? It means they will have to wait for cures, or die without a cure if they don’t have enough time. For researchers and patients, there is no stem cell war, only various paths to cures.

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    Don C. Reed said:

    Despite endless religious/political attacks, embryonic stem cell research still holds enormous power and potential. It is the gold standard against which everything else is measured.

    Geron’s decision was financial. They are essentially a small company, and lost too much money last year. This is not an easy economy for anyone, and the courage they displayed so long,while exemplary, was no longer enough. They did what they had to do.

    A larger company is needed, and will be found.

    The research will go on. Whether the answers come from embryonic or embryonic-like therapeutics, is up to science. Personally, I bet on hESC. It has not had a tenth of the money which has been lavished on adult stem cells, but its time is coming.

    Science will decide, by the undeniable truth of experiment and outcome.

    Sooner or later, we will prevail.

    Don C. Reed

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    vincent dyer said:

    Have a read of Mesoblast (ASX MSB ) annual report released yesterday … A larger company has been found and slipped under the radar for most ….Cheers Vin

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    collegestudent509 said:

    If major stem cell companies such as Geron are throwing in the towel, would it be considered reasonable for scientists who worked for these companies to flee to other larger stem cell superpowers in other countries such as China and Singapore?

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