Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Financial Message on Stem Cell Research

For the ethically challenged, a couple of business news outlets have pointed out another good reason for high stem cell research standards – money.

Without confidence in the research and its results, both big and small investors will shy from coming up with the cash that is necessary to turn research into therapies that will cure millions and generate billions in profits.

Both Business Week Online and Bloomberg News carried pieces on the financial impact of the Korean fraud.

The headline on the Bloomberg article, prepared by Heejin Koo and William Sim, said, "Fake Stem Cell Research Work May Cost Korean Industry Billions." The article noted that Hwang's research was once estimated to be worth $34 billion to the Korean stem cell industry by 2015.

Reporter Arlene Weintraub of Business Week Online wrote that the unsettled state of stem cell research has:
"...kept most venture capitalists away from anyone with the phrase 'stem cell' in their business plan. When the Korean scandal started erupting in December, shares of ACT(Advanced Cell Technology Inc.) fell 16 percent and rival Geron Corp. (NasdaqNM:GERN - News) tumbled 4 percent, despite the fact that interest in biotech was strong and the Amex Biotech Index was up 6 percent in the same period. Korea 'is just another body blow,' says ACT investor William Woodward of Santa Monica (Calif.)-based Anthem Venture Partners."

The piece noted the financial importance of articles in scientific journals.
"Geron's recent history reveals how much is at stake. On Sept. 1, the Menlo Park (Calif.) company announced that cardiac-muscle cells derived from human embryonic stem cells survived and multiplied in the hearts of rats, suggesting the cells might someday be useful for treating cardiac disease in humans. The research was published in the American Journal of Pathology. Geron's stock immediately traded up 3 percent to $11.20, on four times its normal trading volume. Such share-price bumps have allowed the company to go back to investors in a position of strength: It now has $200 million in cash and no debt."

Not mentioned in the Business Week piece was Geron's performance recently during the greatest attention to the Korean scandal. Geron's share price was $9.53 on Dec. 12. Since then it has dropped to $8.52 on Jan. 13.

Weintraub also wrote that the shaky state of commercial funding of stem cell research has led to some "contortions."
"When ACT decided to raise money by going public last year, investment bankers were so uninterested that the company opted instead to reverse-merge into a shell company that once made Hopi Indian dolls. It wasn't quite as splashy as an initial public offering, but the symbolism was perfect: The dolls represent ancestral spirits to whom the Hopis pray for rain and other gifts. New shares in hand, ACT raised $18 million from hedge funds and other risk-taking investors -- enough to carry the company into 2007. But the spirits didn't smile on this stock, which fell from a high of $7 to a recent $1.90 a share."

Nonetheless, Lanza still has a Hopi doll of a red-tailed hawk in his office.

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