Written by Pete Shanks, a regular contributor to the Berkeley center's Biopolitical Times, the piece chronicled some of the history and hype involving Geron and hESC research. The center has long taken a skeptical view of the California stem cell agency and Geron. Shanks wrote,
"Geron has been in trouble for a while. Former CEO Thomas Okarma, who left abruptly in February, was the subject of ridicule for his repeated announcements that ESC-based clinical trials would begin "next year" — that is, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 — and the trial they eventually came up with was so dubious that Arthur Caplan called it "nuts and hugely risky." Even experts in the field thought that targeting spinal cord injury in the first ESC trial was dubious, though some seem to be more willing to be critical now it has ended.Shanks also wrote,
"And that was on the scientific and perhaps commercial merits. The ethical problems were much worse, since the trial was intended for people who had recently suffered damage to their spinal cords. Bioethicist Laurie Zoloth (who was once on Geron's ethics advisory board, and basically approved of the study), noted at the time of its announcement that:
"'True informed consent in this very vulnerable population, people who have suffered a devastating and life-changing injury a week prior to being asked to enter the first clinical trial for such long-awaited, highly publicized and desperately needed treatment, is hard to obtain and will need to be carefully thought through.'"
"What of CIRM's role? After Geron's announcement, they issued a remarkably bland press statement, followed by an internal memo that expressed deep disappointment (the California Stem Cell Report has the text). It's a real blow to them: Geron was the first private company to receive funds from CIRM to run a clinical trial using ESCs.
"This was a loan, not a grant, and was only made, as the indefatigable David Jensen (publisher of the California Stem Cell Report) discovered, after a 'major departure from longstanding procedures.' The proposal received a low score (66/100) that was not publicly revealed until Jensen specifically asked for it. And the other applicants who might have competed for those funds rather surprisingly all withdrew.
"The suspicion arises that CIRM, or some people within it, badly wanted the trial to proceed in the hope that it would give them a therapeutic success to boast about. If so, the decision just backfired."