Monday, January 26, 2009

Pluses and Minuses in the Geron News Coverage

Media coverage and commentary continued to ripple out today on the Geron clinical trial announcement, generating considerable attention also on California's $3 billion stem cell research effort.

While CIRM has not played a role in the Geron research, the agency's expertise has popped up in many stories with quotes from President Alan Trounson and Chairman Robert Klein along with references to the size of the state effort. All of which helps meet one of the agency's goals of becoming a key media source in all things stem cell.

As usual in such events, the initial coverage on Geron generally tended to be favorable for both the company and for stem cell research. Television news coverage also surfaced, which is rare on stem cell issues. There is no doubt that the Geron announcement is important in establishing a favorable public view of both the science and the business. The expected Obama administration changes in federal stem cell research rules will add to the positive climate and are likely to come in the near future.

But some not-so-ebullient views could be heard as well. The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized this morning that the Geron trials are a "a cautious but unmistakable advance."

The Chronicle continued,
"At this early point, it's mainly about testing the safety of the treatment. That's a key issue because a harmful result or botched trial could set back the stem cell cause immeasurably, a risk that researchers acknowledge."
Reporter Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News wrote,
"California's $3 billion effort to fund such research, launched in 2004, illustrates some of the obstacles federal officials could face in trying to lure companies to begin such studies.

"Aside from being hindered by legal challenges during its first few years, California's program has funneled the vast majority of its money so far for basic research at universities and other nonprofit institutions. And for a variety of reasons — ranging from a lack of investors to skittishness over the ethical debate surrounding the cells — only a handful of companies in the state are experimenting with embryonic stem cells on their own, despite predictions that the effort would quickly bring about a job boom.

"'I would have expected there to be more interest' among businesses, said Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which voters created in November 2004 by passing Proposition 71."
Senior columnist Adam Feuerstein of had an even bleaker view. He wrote,
"I say don't buy into the hype.

"Geron has a long track record of over-promising and under-delivering. In fact, the company's only real accomplishment after years and years of effort has been to burn through tons of shareholder cash.

"Before you send emails that blast me for spitting on stem-cell therapies, understand that my cynicism is directed at Geron, not the promise of stem cells. Today's news was well orchestrated by Geron -- a splashy story in The New York Times, a conference call and an appearance on CNBC. But let's get real: Geron is starting a small phase I study, and with Friday's run, the stock's market cap now stands around $600 million. And for that, you get very little.

"Sorry, but Geron looks more like a short to me than a long."
Stanford's Christopher Thomas Scott released a statement that said,
"President Obama's intention to lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, Congress' promised actions to legislate funding, and Geron's announcement are three important steps to a long road for cures and treatments. After an eight year drought, patience is needed. The federal government must retool those agencies and institutes bereft of stem cell expertise. The NIH must appropriate funding at a level needed to produce the kinds of results we need to have more encouraging news from the private sector. Finally, the states must enact policies that are in step with the new vision in Washington. This will take time. Once the US is back on track, then it can do what it does best: discover, translate, and develop the science and treatments for its citizens."
Here some links to other interesting stories on the Geron trial and its implications:ABC News, Wired News (Trounson heavily quoted), The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

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