Sunday, June 17, 2012

Parsing Geron's Stem Cell Foray: A Nature Journal Commentary

Why did Geron "fail" in its much ballyhooed pursuit of the first-ever human embryonic stem cell therapy?

Christopher Scott, senior research scholar at Stanford, and Brady Huggett, business editor of the journal Nature, took a crack at answering that question in a commentary in the June edition of Nature.

Following the sudden abandonment last fall by Geron of its hESC business and the first-ever clinical trial of an hESC therapy, Scott and Huggett scrutinized the history of the company. The financial numbers were impressive. They wrote,
"How did Geron’s R&D program meet such a demise? After all, the company raised more than $583 million through 23 financings, including two venture rounds, and plowed more than half a billion dollars into R&D (about half of that into hESC work) through 2010. 
"There are problems with being at the forefront of unknown territory. Of Geron’s development efforts, the hESC trial was the most prominent, and fraught. Therapies based on hESCs were new territory for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it eyed Geron warily. The investigational new drug application (IND), filed in 2008, was twice put on clinical hold while more animal data were collected among fears that nonmalignant tumors would result from stray hESCs that escaped the purification process. Geron says it spent $45 million on the application, and at 22,000 pages, it was reportedly the largest the agency had ever received."
The California stem cell agency also bet $25 million on the company just a few months before it pulled the plug. Geron repaid all the CIRM money that it had used up to that point.

Geron suffered from a lack of revenue despite its vaunted stem cell patent portfolio. Scott and Huggett reported that Geron received only $69 million from 1992 to 2010 from collaborations, license and royalties. At the same time losses were huge – $111 million in 2010.

The Nature article noted all of that was occurring while other biotech companies – such as Isis and Alnylam – found ample financial support, revenue and success.

Scott's and Huggett's directed their final comment to Advanced Cell Technology, now the only company in the United States with a clinical trial involving a human embryonic stem cell therapy.
"Your technology may be revolutionary, your team may be dedicated and you may believe. But it does not matter if no one else will stand at your side."
Our take: The California stem cell agency obviously has learned something from its dealings with Geron. The company's hESC announcement was an unpleasant surprise, to put it mildly, coming only about three months after CIRM signed the Geron loan agreement. Today, however, the agency has embarked on more, equally risky ventures with other biotech enterprises. Indeed, CIRM is forging into areas that conventional investment shuns. It is all part of mission approved by California voters in 2004.

The dream of cures from human embryonic stem cells or even adult stem cells is alluring. And CIRM is feeling much justifiable pressure to engage industry more closely. All the more reason for CIRM's executives and directors to maintain a steely determination to terminate research programs that are spinning their wheels and instead pursue efforts that are making significant progress in commercializing research and attracting other investors.  

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:36 AM

    sooo.. when does ACT get CIRM money??


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