Geron Stops Stem Cell Trial to Focus on Cancer Therapies

Geron announced on Tuesday morning that they would not be enrolling new patients in their human embryonic stem cell trial for spinal cord injury. They also stated that they would not be investing any resources into their stem cell business, but rather would focus all effort towards two cancer treatments in development. Geron’s stem cell trial was the first human embryonic stem cell trial to receive approval in the United States. Geron cited a lack of investment in their stem cell business and commercial uncertainty as reasons for discontinuing the program.

In a previous issue of the Dish titled “Exciting News for the Promise of Stem Cell Therapy,” we discussed Geron’s stem cell trial for treatment of spinal cord injury and the news that one patient in the clinical trial had reported that he felt it was working. In October 2010, Geron enrolled four patients with spinal cord injuries and injected them with 2 million stem cells. The goal of the trial was to demonstrate safety and Geron has stated that there were no serious side effects from the treatment. They will continue to treat the four patients currently enrolled but they will not enroll any additional patients.

For a long time, Geron has been considered the leader in stem Cell Therapy, followed closely by Advanced Cell Technology. Now that Geron has halted its trial, Advanced Cell Technology is the only other United States company currently conducting human trials using embryonic stem cells. (Please read The Dish’s “Increase in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Helps Future of Industry,” for more details.)

While some see this as a blow to the stem cell industry and a major setback to seeing a stem Cell Therapy approved, others stated that they thought that spinal cord injury was too lofty of a target to begin with. In an article from the Guardian (see link below), Professor Alison Murdoch, Head of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University said “Making Superman walk would have been great for business but was an ambitious target for a serious problem and maybe not the best start scientifically or clinically for stem cell therapies.” Some are choosing to look at this as an opportunity for other stem cell companies who have therapies in clinical trials using stem cells not derived from human embryonic stem cells, where there has been significant controversy. The hope is that with Geron out of the picture there will be more investor dollars for other companies developing stem cell therapies.

It is difficult to predict how this will affect the stem cell industry, but there is no question that it is sad to see the clinical trial end without an approved therapy. I hope that other companies like Advanced Cell Technology, Aastrom, and others will be able to pick up the mantle so that we can benefit from this technology in the future.

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