Thursday, August 28, 2014

Asterias Stock Price Jumps Nearly 13 Percent Today Following hESC Therapy News

The California stem cell agency and Asterias Biotherapeutics today picked up a modicum of news coverage in connection with an advance on a spinal injury therapy that was once hailed as historic.

The news about the Menlo Park, Ca., firm’s clinical trial received major attention in the San Francisco Chronicle and more modest coverage in the San Francisco Business Times and on the ipscell.com blog.  

The news also helped to push the Asterias stock price up nearly 13 percent since yesterday to close at $3.08 today. The stock closed at $2.43 Tuesday, the day before the company released the clinical trial news, according to Google Finance.

Stephanie Lee’s piece in the Chronicle contained some history about the potential therapy, dating back to when it was developed by Geron and then abandoned. Geron was the first firm to win approval of a clinical trial for a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) treatment.

Lee also had a couple of interesting tidbits, including the fact that the stem cell agency’s $14.3 million award to support the trial will cover half its costs. Lee also reported,
“Geron treated severe injuries in the thoracic region of the spinal cord, which runs along the back. Asterias is targeting injuries that originate in the neck, citing an outside study that suggests injuries in this area are easier to treat.”
Enal Razvi
Select Biosciences photo
Lee additionally quoted Enal Razvi, managing director of Select Biosciences U.S., an international life sciences consulting firm with its U.S. headquarters in Fremont, Ca.,  as saying,
"This is just the start of a trial, not the approval of a drug, which are two very, very different things in this space…(but) this helps things go to the next level." 
The Chronicle story was the No. 1 story late afternoon today in Google news search results using the term "stem cell," ranking ahead of the STAP news out of Japan.

Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis scientists who writes the ipscell blog, carried a Q&A with Jane Lebkowski, president of research and development at Asterias, who discussed another hESC product. She said,
“A second Asterias product is AST-VAC2, which are human embryonic stem cell derived dendritic cells. These cells are modified to express telomerase, a protein typically expressed in cancer cells. The aim is to use these telomerase expressing dendritic cells to stimulate immune responses against cancer cells. We are now preparing for clinical trials with this product.” 
That effort could well find its way to additional funding from the California stem cell agency if it meets the four-point criteria of the new president, Randy Mills, of the $3 billion research program.

In the San Francisco Business Times piece, Ron Leuty noted that the initial five-patient safety trial showed that “spinal cord injuries in four the patients had shrunk.” Leuty wrote,
“Whether that means Geron’s treatment is working in those patients is an open question. Geron’s study looked only at acute, or new, spinal cord injuries, so some of the results could be connected to normal healing over time.”
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