Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CIRM Chairman on Geron: Agency in for the Long Haul

Commenting on Geron's decision to abandon hESC research, the chairman of the California stem cell agency, Jonathan Thomas, says the agency knew "the road to new therapies would be arduous, and that for each success, there would be setbacks as well."

In a memo Monday to the agency's 29 board members, Thomas reiterated that Geron maintains the decision had nothing to do with safety concerns. He said the company's action underscores the agency's commitment to long-term development of stem cell therapies.

Thomas also said the $3 billion agency will retain the stock warrants it received from Geron, but did not disclose their numbers. We have queried CIRM for more details. CIRM loaned Geron $25 million, which was paid back by Geron on Monday.

A copy of the Thomas memo was provided to the California Stem Cell Report. Here is the full text.
"Dear Board Members:

"Earlier this afternoon, we learned that Geron made a decision to discontinue its stem cell research program, including the CIRM-funded clinical trial involving spinal cord injury. Geron made this decision in order to shift its focus to its oncology program. Geron has assured us that its decision to discontinue the trial had nothing to do with safety concerns; the cells have been well-tolerated and the patients have experienced no adverse effects. Geron will continue to follow all enrolled patients and has committed to accrue data and update the FDA and the medical community regarding the patients’ progress.

"In addition, Geron has returned CIRM’s funds, with accrued interest. CIRM will maintain the warrants it received.

"Of course, we remain committed to funding clinical development of stem cell therapies. We have always recognized that the road to new therapies would be arduous, and that for each success, there would be setbacks as well. We also know that companies make decisions for business reasons, and that it is not unusual for a company to pursue a new strategy, as Geron has done. CIRM, by contrast, is focused on its long-term goal of delivering therapies and cure to patients, and today’s events underscore the importance of CIRM’s long-term commitment to funding therapy development.

"This trial represented the first-ever clinical trial of human embryonic stem cells and we expected that it would be challenging. We share the frustration of all the patients for whom this trial offered great hope. I spoke personally with both Don and Roman Reed to express my commitment to the on-going search for therapies.

"Although we are deeply disappointed by Geron’s decision, we are grateful that Geron has established a regulatory pathway for human embryonic stem cell therapies and we are confident in the potential of stem cells to treat patients suffering from chronic disease and injury.

"Here is a link to CIRM’s press release: http://www.cirm.ca.gov/PressRelease_2011-11-14"
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