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Wanted: Partner for a stem cell pioneer
A researcher holds up a container with stem cells at the University of Connecticut's Stem Cell Institute in 2010.
November 17th, 2011
01:38 PM ET

Wanted: Partner for a stem cell pioneer

It appears that the economy, not controversy, is shutting down the first clinical trial to use cells derived from human embryonic stem cells in humans. Due to the "current environment of capital scarcity and uncertain economic conditions," Geron CEO Dr. John Scarlett said his company will be focusing on developing cancer treatments instead.

In January 2009, after many years of research, Geron became the first company to get FDA approval for human trials using cells grown from human embryonic stem cells.  The the FDA asked for more research, which led to final approval in July of last year.  Three months later, a 21-year-old nursing student from Alabama became the first human to be injected with these cells.

The purpose of this trial was to determine safety.  Embryonic stem cells have the ability to turn into any type of cell. Cells that had been coaxed into becoming nerves cells were injected into patients who had  just suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed them from the chest on down. Patients had to receive these injections within two weeks of being paralyzed.

Geron had FDA approval to test at least eight patients, to see whether the injections were safe and could be tolerated by patients.  So far  four patients had received injections. Any other patients who had already consented to participating could still be part of this clinical trial, says Scarlett.

Dr. Stephen Kelsey, Geron's chief medical officer and head of research and development,  says that the cells have been "remarkably well tolerated" but that they have not received any information about their impact on the patient. "We have not observed any neurologic function at that stage," he says.

Experts in the field agree that Geron paved the way for other companies to seek FDA approval for embryonic stem cell trials. Shortly after Geron's trial began, the FDA approved the second clinical trial using cells derived from human embryonic stem cells for a different company,  Advanced Cell Technology. In this case, cells are being injected into the eyes.

But on Monday, Geron, which received no federal funding, halted the 13-month-old trial, saying it was too expensive.  "We will discontinue further development of our stem cell programs and are seeking partners for these assets," Scarlett said.

Geron's chief financial officer, David Greenwood, told investors and reporters Tuesday that stem cell-related research and development costs, if they were to continue, would total about $25 million per year for the next several years.  So the company has to decided to focus instead on two cancer therapies that have moved further down the research pipeline than stem cells and will provide more shareholder value. "We anticipate having sufficient financial resources to reach these important near-term value inflection points for shareholders without the necessity of raising additional capital," says Scarlett.

One of these drugs, called imetelstat, blocks an enzyme that helps cancer cells grow. It's in Phase 2 clinical trials being tested in lung cancer, breast cancer and two blood cancers (essential thrombocythemia and multiple myeloma). Geron says results from these trials are expected by the end of next year.

The other therapy is called GRN1005, and first results for safety trials (phase 1) were presented at a cancer conference  on Tuesday.  GRN1005  is meant to treat brain cancer that has spread from other parts of the body, by binding an already-approved cancer drug called Taxol to a protein. This combination would allow the cancer drug to cross the blood-brain barrier, something that Taxol alone can't do, according to Scarlett.  Study results show that this combination drug was safe and well tolerated by the patients, "with encouraging evidence of anti-tumor activity against brain metastases," according to a company press release.

With the cancer drugs further down the research pipeline, Geron is now looking for a partner to take over the stem cell program, which not only includes research into spinal cord injuries, but also heart disease, diabetes and cartilage damage.  While Geron will not enroll any new patients, whoever invests in this branch of the company could choose to do so, executives say.  It all depends on what final deal is made.


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soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. J. Fred Hart Jr

    Geron is the IG Farben of our age. At least Farben made a profit out of the death business; Geron apparently can not even do that.

    November 17, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, the drama. The embryos are going to be destroyed regardless, dumbbell.

      November 17, 2011 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
    • Janice

      Hi im a spinal cord injury T-4 is my injury was just wondering if you will be doing stem cell for me and was interested in got lots of feelings just cant get my legs to move. And got leg braces doing physical therpy 2 times a week and just wondering if spinal cord people have a chance to get stem cell im willing to be a expertmental peson been 3 years as of may of 2008 when the accident happened. well email me if you wish thanks Janice

      November 17, 2011 at 20:29 | Report abuse |
  2. Katie Murphy

    I'm sure the catholic church will be complaining here.. The same people who signed a concordant (agreement with hitler that legitimized the nazi party in the eyes of German catholics.

    The same church whose german born pope UNexcommunnicated Bishop Williamson, who is a holocaust denier, and reportedly has 600,000 aderents. Benedict dlamied he didnt know about the holocaust denier issue. Surprising , given the endless resources of the church., and how few people are excommunicated. (not just denied communion).

    But there is more to the story, then this, and the church spewn BS about umbilical and skin cell stem cells.

    Stem cells research will take us a giant leap forward re understanding how life evolves from non living shemicals.

    The end of the mythology of the 6 days and on the seventh God rested mythology about the origins of life.

    The other issue re the stem cell business and the catholic church, is they are broke re lawsuits related to the endless hiddden molestation of children all over the world.

    The reputed 600,000 followers of Williamson rejoining the vatican will bring a big boost in income, to help pay the awardss re teh vilest of crimes the church committed and worse hid, against children

    November 17, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. LeDude

    To hell with the Catholic church and what they think. Science and developmental medicine will not stand still because some people believe in an invisible man in the sky.

    God doesn't exist, sickness and illnesses do.

    November 17, 2011 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Incrediboy

      You're a dead hollow soul. No question where you're going.

      November 19, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  4. LeDude

    I agree entirely with LeDude's comments.

    Way to say it like it is!!!

    November 17, 2011 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Not LeDude

    I'm not LeDude. However, I am sitting in consumer behavior class right now extremely bored.

    That said, LeDude makes sense.

    November 17, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. LeDude

    This is LeDude, I'm back. I appreciate all the supportive comments that appear on this message board.

    To all my adoring fans, thank you!

    LD

    November 17, 2011 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Incrediboy

      Another village IDIOT !!

      November 19, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
  7. LeDude

    LeDude suggests that you never change a winning game plan, but should always change a losing one.

    How's that food for thought?!

    November 17, 2011 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. NotLeDude

    O.k., still in my consumer beahvior class *sighs* and still bored. Although, I just dominated a game of online Risk.

    As Montell Jordan once said, "This is how we do it!!!"

    By the way, LeDude for Congress!!! I like the way that man thinks.

    November 17, 2011 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. NotLeDude

    *behavior ... typos blow!

    November 17, 2011 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Parag Jr.

    You know, I wonder when I'm going to be born. Should be any day now ...

    November 17, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Incrediboy

      You're NOT. You're dead n gone....airhead.

      November 19, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
  11. sonja ponce

    i have been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. the chemo i have been receivign is not helping. i would gladly be a candidatefor testing with imetelstst.i live in san jose, california but would be willing to move near geron if needed. life is precious, i want to see my grandkids grow, first day of school etc etc.

    November 18, 2011 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. tazamatic

    sonja ponce here is the information you need. This is the trial you are looking for Open Label Study With Imetelstat to Determine Effect of Imetelstat in Patients w/ Previously Treated Multiple Myeloma . Here is the conact information. Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Johns Hopkins Hospital Recruiting
    Baltimore, Maryland, United States, 21231
    Contact: K Rogers, RN 443-287-0388 Krogers7@jhmi.edu
    Good luck from a pained Geron Investor

    November 18, 2011 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jimmy-James

    "For more shareholder value. . ." Profiting on the sick, dying and infirmed are the epitome of evil.

    November 18, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jdoe

    No big deal. Other countries can pick up stem cell research. The U.S. can focus on faith healing instead.

    November 19, 2011 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. SoothSayer

    the match is not between Science vs. God, but rather between "my religion" vs "your religion", in which case it's not about you and me, but about humanity.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Guest

    Another company falling victim to short-term profit related greed and money. It is downright shameful. While we have more than enough cancer drugs on the market, many of which increase life for a few months at exorbitant cost, a stem cell recipient with a successful outcome would have had years to live a quality life. The newer cancer drugs are a huge moneymaker – companies can charge several thousand dollars for a few doses and enrich themselves. Why do anything for the poor disabled if it cuts into huge executive compensation and profits? Isn't that what people go to learn at Business schools? Money above everything, even humanity. I wonder if they would continue with their cancer drugs if all of a sudden it was decided that insurance would not pay for these expensive treatments.

    November 21, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. MEDICINE CURE-ALL!

    STEM CELL IS SCIENCE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION IN CURING UNKNOWN ILLNESSES THAT CONSUME INNOCENT LIVES ALL OVER THE WORLD

    November 23, 2011 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. GOD

    USE STEM CELL RESEARCH. IT IS PART OF MY DIVINE PLAN YOU FOOLS!!!!

    November 23, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JESUS CHRIST

      THAT IS WHAT I KEEP TRYING TO TELL THEM DAD. HOW MANY SIGNS MUST WE SEND?

      November 23, 2011 at 12:02 | Report abuse |

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.