Sunday, November 30, 2008

Differing Views on the Future of the Stem Cell Industry

The headline in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning read: "Drastic cuts among some biotech companies."

But just the day before, the Chronicle reported that "many in the stem cell field have a buoyant air these days."

The Chronicle is not alone in posing apparently contradictory views. Monya Baker carried links to some on her Nature magazine blog, The Niche. And here is the "good news" version of the stem cell biz from Midwest: "Why stem cell companies in Wisconsin and beyond will finally catch the eye of investors."

A couple of things are at work here. One is the optimism spurred by the Obama administration and its plans to ease restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research. A superficial assessment of that move generates an unrealistic, but rosy outlook for the stem cell business. The other factor involves the perennial optimism of the entrepreneur. They are a class given to always seeing the glass as half-full. What better time to invest in stem cells? Values are down. Bargains are waiting to be snatched up.

Indeed, financial bottom-feeders with strong stomachs and patience may do well. But the financial vulture business is tough. All the bad economic news has not yet sifted out. Realistically, it would seem to be a good time to be cautious about the prospects of any individual stem cell company.

We all should remember as well that the history of the biotech industry is littered with far more money-losing enterprises than successes.

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