Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Second hESC Trial Scores Significant Media Coverage

FDA's approval of a second clinical trial involving a human embryonic stem cell therapy developed by Advanced Cell Technology attracted wide spread media coverage yesterday and today, but missing were some interesting sidelights.

Stories appeared from Boston to Los Angeles about the effort by the firm, which is headquartered in Santa Monica, Ca.

Alla Katsnelson of Nature magazine wrote,
"The trial will examine the safety of a therapy for Stargardt’s Macular Degeneration, an inherited juvenile eye disease affecting an estimated 1 in 10,000 young people in the US. As the disease progresses, a layer of the retina called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) degenerates, causing vision loss. It's hoped the new therapy would also work for other types of macular degeneration, a widespread cause of blindness, particularly in the elderly....

“Macular degeneration has been seen as stem cell therapy’s low-hanging fruit because the cells that need replacing are so accessible, both for delivering the treatment and for monitoring its effects. The eye is also an immune-privileged site – meaning that injections won’t elicit an immune response. Last year, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed to back the work of researchers at University College, London, who are developing a similar therapy."
Carolyn Johnson of the Boston Globe was one of the few mainstream media writers to note the company's stock price. She said,
"ACT has withstood financial struggles over the past few years, and its stock price closed on Friday at under 5 cents a share. But the small clinical trial that it has gained approval for — to treat 12 patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy — will make it the second company in the United States to test a human embryonic stem cell treatment.

"'It’s been a long road. . . . We’ve had our telephones turned off a few times,'’ said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer for ACT. 'We’ve hung in there.'"
Unmentioned in the stories was the fact that ACT, lured by the passage of the measure that created the $3 billion California stem cell agency, moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to California in 2005. While ACT has never received a grant from the stem cell agency, it is one of the few companies that has complained publicly at a meeting of CIRM directors about a conflict of interest on the part of a grant reviewer.

The comments by Stephen Kessler in August 2008 were cut off by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, who said directors needed to discuss the names for CIRM-funded labs before going to lunch.

Also not mentioned were reports that ACT is one of the few companies likely to have applied in CIRM's $50 million clinical trial round.

CIRM carried a straight-forward item about the trial on its research blog.

Writing on his blog, researcher Paul Knoepfler of UC Davis called it “a great day.” He said,
“I think there is reason for cautious optimism. Cell therapy-based approaches to treating blindness together represent a fundamentally new, exciting area.”
Here are links to other stories: New York Times, USA Today, Xinhau, AFP, Science, Los Angeles Times, ACT news release.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:54 AM

    So, Advanced Cell Technology - ACT - did it (obtained FDA approval for a clinicl trial) without CIRM money? They are making progress towards ACTUALLY bringing cures to the people and did it without a dime from CIRM? And they tried to talk to CIRM and were cut off because CIRM would rather talk about naming buildings/labs? Two words: ASTONISHING and UNBELIEVABLE.


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