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April 18, 2014

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How Big a Blow was Geron's Bombshell That it is Bailing on Embryonic Stem Cell Research? BIG

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November 22, 2011 (JillStanek.com) - Out of nowhere the Geron Corporation announced last week it was not only halting the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cell treatment on humans but getting out of the embryonic stem cell business altogether.

To understand how big a blow to the embryonic stem cell industry this was, you first must know it was Geron that funded the University of Wisconsin Madison’s original research back in 1995, which resulted in the first cultures of embryonic stem cells. It was Geron that started this whole mess.

Geron went on to comprise one-third of the triune that controlled which company or university got access to embryonic stem cell lines, along with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

In its position of power Geron grabbed the “exclusive commercialization rights” to the three most lucrative areas of embryonic stem cell research if treatments are ever found – spinal cord injury, heart disease, and diabetes.

Geron’s juggernaut culminated last year with the FDA’s first approval of embryonic stem cell treatment on human spinal cord injured patients, “triggering a wave of ebullience from scientists, investors and patient advocates,” according to the California Stem Cell Report.

Embryonic stem cell supporters were giddy with hope that Geron would find something, anything, to fulfill the “promise” of embryonic stem cell research.

Former Geron CEO Thomas Okarma (pictured left) only fueled that hope by boasting Geron stock shares would likely soar to “biblical proportions” if its spinal injury research was successful, in which case, he said, “the company’s biggest challenge may be to fend off takeover bids.”

In all, Geron invested 15 years and a whopping $150 million into embryonic stem cell research.

Only to abruptly dump it? What a difference a year makes.  The value of Geron’s stock in the past year has fallen 70%, and since last week’s announcement it has only sunk lower. It is laying off 38% of its workers.

Meanwhile Geron and the media insist the spinal cord trials were going just fine and that Geron’s decision was purely one of “financial priorities.”

But I am not alone in sensing something more is afoot. One speculation, according to Science Magazine:

The development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are adult cells genetically reprogrammed to resemble embryonic ones, means that Geron’s exclusive licenses may be worth less.

Or worthless, hopefully – obsolete. iPS cells are skin cells thought to have the same ability as embryonic stem cells to grow a variety of ways 1) without the controversy; and 2) without the potential for rejection, since iPS cells come from a patient’s own body and not someone else’s, such as cells from embryos.

That may be true of investors, but there’s always government funding, i.e., money belonging to you and I.

Reprinted with permission from JillStanek.com


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