Friday, July 30, 2010

Geron Go-Ahead Rouses Industry and Researchers

Geron Corp. said today that it hopes to begin within the next two months a clinical trial for an hESC therapy for spinal injuries, triggering a wave of ebullience from scientists, investors and patient advocates.

The company disclosed its plans following the lifting by the FDA of a hold on the effort.

Clive Cookson of the Financial Times of London caught the global significance. He wrote,
“The world’s first treatment based on human embryonic stem cells is set to begin a clinical trial within the next two months, in patients with acute spinal cord injury.”
For patient advocate Don Reed of Fremont, Ca., it was an emotional event. Writing on his blog, Reed said,
“The research behind this ground-breaking event was paid for a California law named after my paralyzed son, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999.”
Reed continued,

Christopher 'Superman' Reeve gave us his blessing, saying, 'One day, Roman and I will stand up from our wheelchairs, and walk away from them forever.' Cure did not come in time for our paralyzed champion, but we still believe in that great dream.”
Shares of Geron, a firm in Menlo Park, Ca., shot up 17 percent or 83 cents to $5.63. Analysts predicted skyrocketing share prices if the clinical trial proves successful.

Rob Waters and Molly Peterson of Bloomberg News interviewed Thomas Okarma, CEO of Geron. Bloomberg said,
"The FDA action strengthens Geron’s ability to start similar trials in the future, Okarma said. It also leaves regulators with a better grasp of how to review a completely new type of therapy.
"'It’s helped both of us to get up the learning curve together,' Okarma said. 'We’ve brought the FDA to a higher level of understanding which has been very positive and mutually beneficial. And phew, it’s about time.'"
Peterson and Bloomberg continued:
"Two other U.S. companies are working with embryonic stem cells. Advanced Cell Technology;of Marlborough, Massachusetts(and Los Angeles), is awaiting FDA approval to start a clinical trial in patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, an eye disorder that causes severe vision loss.

"Viacyte, formerly known as Novocell Inc., a closely held San Diego company, is working on methods of turning embryonic stem cells into insulin-secreting cells for the treatment of diabetes."
Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis, had predicted on his blog on July 1 that the FDA hold on Geron would be lifted “very soon.” Today he said,
"The hold was placed because of a 'higher frequency of cysts.' However many of us were wondering why the serious concern (and seemingly long hold) about non-tumorigenic cysts that were somewhat unremarkable in appearance. That remains unclear except that perhaps it was the "higher frequency" part. Despite being a bit puzzled about the length of the hold, I think in the long run caution makes sense."
CIRM President Alan Trounson said in a statement,
“This is an important milestone for the whole field to have an embryonic stem cell therapeutic in clinical trials. We are looking with hope and expectation that the transplant will be safe and effective.”
Geron is expected to be one of three firms (including Advanced Cell Technology) seeking funding from the California stem cell agency in its upcoming $50 million clinical trial round. The RFA was originally scheduled for May but was rescheduled for this month. CIRM appears likely to miss that target. Sphere: Related Content

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