Thursday, May 12, 2011

Geron Loan Draws Media Attention to CIRM

The state of California's first-ever venture into a clinical trial involving human embryonic stem cells garnered more than the usual news coverage last week for the Golden State's $3 billion stem cell research effort.

At least more than usual for the stem cell agency, which has received modest attention in the mainstream media in recent years.

The $25 million loan to Geron Inc. of Menlo Park, Ca., drew articles in newspapers ranging from the Los Angeles Times to the San Francisco Business Times. However, the story was ignored by the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News and The Sacramento Bee, based on our searches. That despite the fact that the circulation areas of the San Francisco and San Jose papers include the headquarters of both Geron and the California stem cell agency.

The lack of coverage by those papers undoubtedly is a reflection of the current overtaxed nature of the newspaper business along with the difficulty of peddling stem cell research stories to reporters and editors.

Keith Darce of the San Diego Union-Tribune had most developed story that we saw. It included comments from another stem cell company and termed the award "historic." Darce also pointed out that the loan is part of CIRM's effort to help stem cell companies through what is known as a financial valley of death – a period in which it is difficult to find conventional financing.

Eryn Brown at the Los Angeles Times, the state's largest newspaper and which has paid scant attention to CIRM, wrote,
"John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica, Calif., said that making a loan to support a clinical trial made sense.  While his group has worried in the past about awards becoming 'boondoggles,' he said in this case Geron's trial was vetted carefully and the company met the requirements needed for funding. 'It could provide cures.  That's what everyone wants,' he said. 'I'm watching it with interest.'" 
CIRM's press release quoted outgoing agency Chairman Robert Klein as describing the state's investment as a "landmark step." But he cautioned that severe setbacks could be encountered. He said,
"We need to be prepared to stand by the heroic patients and the companies as they face these challenges and solve the problems that stand in the way of the recovery of patients from paralysis."
Over the last year, Klein has talked up another bond issue for CIRM that could total as much as $5 billion. CIRM operates on borrowed money (state bonds), which doubles the real cost of all its activities because of the interest expense.

To win voter approval of a new bond issue will require concrete results, such as those envisioned in the Geron trial, to justify continued state support of stem cell research.

Geron's three-year clinical trial is aimed at assessing the safety of its treatment. Any regular use of the therapy is probably a decade or more away because of the need to test its efficacy and to clear regulatory hurdles. Geron hopes to enroll 10 patients in its trial. The firm picked up its second in Chicago, according to a report this week.

Here are links to more stories, some of which incorrectly described the award as a grant, along with links to press releases on the state loan to Geron: Geron's press release, CIRM's press release, CaliforniaHealthline, Science magazine, Nature, Los Angeles TV stations), xconomy and Fierce Biotech,

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