Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Biotime-Geron Deal Attracts Interest from Brit Investor

A British investment trust that has invested in Geron says it is going to take an advantage of an offer by an Alameda firm that is seeking to acquire Geron's human embryonic stem cell assets.

Jonathan C. Woolf, managing director of British & American Investment Trust PLC, said last week in a letter to its shareholders that it is disappointed in Geron's performance and the abandonment of its hESC program last November. The sudden halt to the program and its historic clinical trial also surprised the California stem cell agency, which had loaned Geron $25 million just a few months earlier. The agency has expressed an interest in continuing the trial.

Woolf said,
“We have been highly critical of Geron management's decisions and strategy over the past 20 months, in particular the decision in November 2011 to abruptly exit Geron's regenerative medicine (stem cell) business in which it was the acknowledged world leader. Since that time, Geron management has attempted to sell or partner this business but to date has been unable to announce any progress on this.”
Woolf's trust is not listed as a major Geron shareholder by Morningstar, but Woolf said 17 percent of his firm's investments are in the Menlo Park, Ca., company. The specific size of the trust's holdings in Geron was not immediately known.

Woolf pointed to the offer by Biotime, Inc., of Alameda, Ca., as a way for Geron shareholders to benefit. On Oct. 18, Biotime proposed a complicated deal in which it would acquire Geron's hESC program. Biotime's president, Michael West, founded Geron in 1990. The head of the Biotime subsidiary that would acquire the Geron assets is Tom Okarma, who was CEO of Geron from 1999 to 2011. (Here are links to brief stories on the offer: Fiercebiotech, New Scientist.)

In his letter, Woolf noted Geron's declining stock performance. He said he is “seriously concerned” that Geron has failed to find a buyer for the assets. Woolf said,
“These now dormant and untended assets are inevitably losing value as competitors make progress in Geron's absence from the field and patent protection periods decline.”
Woolf continued,
“We believe BioTime's proposals would make Geron's stem cell assets in combination with those of BioTime once again the world's leading stem cell business with sufficient resources to recommence the discontinued programmes and develop the business further into the medium term.”
Woolf urged Geron directors and other Geron shareholders to work with Biotime to complete the deal. Geron has not commented on the offer.

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