The Niche

Advanced Cell Technology going broke

News reports today say that embryonic-stem cell company Advanced Cell Technology is running out of money and won’t be able to keep up its operations past the end of the month. The company is well known for its efforts to clone human embryonic stem cells and also for its efforts use embryonic stem cells to treat blindness.

Here’s the story as first reported in the Boston Globe.

Though often accused of hype, ACT has been considered one of the leaders in bringing embryonic-stem cell derived cells to the clinic. In April this year, it was one of only three companies asked to testify to the FDA about ways to safely test embryonic-stem-cell products in patients. (See my account of the questions raised and an overview from that meeting.)

It’s been a long, tough slog for stem cell companies. Just weeks after the FDA meeting, another forerunner, Geron, announced that the FDA had ruled that the company could not go ahead with a clinical trial to test its cells in spinal cord injury. ( See Embryonic stem-cell trial put on hold.) Last year, another company, ES Cell International in Singapore, announced that it would no longer pursue using ES cells to create therapies (See Funding crunch forces stem cell company to abandon therapies ). Instead, it plans to seek to generate income by using ES cells for drug screening, a strategy being pursued by several other companies (See New tools for drug screening.)

It’s common for novel sorts of therapies on the way to the clinic. Both antibodies and solid-organ transplants took decades working the bugs out of the technology before their use as treatments became commonplace (See The road ahead for regenerative medicine with Harvard’s Ken Chien ). Interestingly, both antibodies and organ transplants were plagued by wayward immune responses; patients died when their bodies tried to fight off the treatments. That’s also a chief concern for cell therapies.


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