November 26, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Stem cell biotech updates: Geron, ACT, Neuralstem, Pfizer

What’s going on these days with biotech companies working on stem cell-based products?

Geron’s and Advanced Cell Technology (ACT)’s FDA-approved trials presumably continue. As expected, no news yet. It’s too soon.

Two important questions regarding both these companies are (1) did they apply for CIRM funding and (2) if so, how did the review process a couple days ago go for them as CIRM reviewed applications for the $50 million stem cell trials round?

Four firms in total applied for this CIRM funding, but we do not know the identities of these companies.  While it is very likely that ACT and Geron did apply, one company publicly said it did not: iPierian.  More details can be found here.

While Geron not only has its HQ in California, but also does its research here, ACT primarily does its research work in Massachusetts. As a result, its possible that if ACT receives CIRM funding it could not only accelerate the research but also catalyze a shift in ACT to conduct more research here in California, creating new jobs here.

A surprise announcement came today that Geron’s President and CEO, Thomas Okarma, has stepped down. Okarma had been in a leadership position with Geron for more than a dozen years so this is a huge change. No reason was given for Okarma leaving his leadership role (he will remain an advisor), but this definitely some kind of fundamental change at Geron. Interestingly, the stock is essentially unchanged today, at least so far.

News on the ‘getting things to the clinic’ front as Neuralstem announced it was given IND status for its stem cell product for treating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients. This is a critically important area for regenerative medicine research as ALS is a fatal condition for which there is currently no treatment. Neuralstem is also developing treatments for other nervous system disorders including chronic spinal cord injury. Unlike Geron and ACT, which use embyronic stem cells to make their products, Neuralstem uses fetal neural stem cells.

The Motley Fool Financial Website has a piece today on stem cell biotechs and without giving much in the way of info, says that giant Pfizer is jumping headlong into stem cell research. It quotes a Pfizer Director, John McNeish, as saying that stem cells have a “tremendous role in drug discovery”.  The signs have been there for the last couple years that big pharma is getting more interested in stem cells, which would be a very good thing for accelerating cures to the clinic. Interestingly, the stocks that they recommend as “stem cell plays” based on insider trading are not ones that I am familiar with.

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