Rumors flying on Geron, ACT, CIRM and the stem cell field

Geron abruptly announced today that it will no longer pursue its spinal cord injury trial using oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) derived from hESC.

Several sources indicate that Geron is hoping to find a buyer of its drug for this trial, GRNOPC1 and the hope is that the trial could be rescued in a sense.

Why did Geron drop its stem cell program after spending millions on it and having most of a $25 million loan from CIRM unspent?

What I’m hearing is that it was a financial decision to narrow their focus to just cancer, which fits with their press release.

One concern is that if Geron perceived their stem cell program as a potential net money loser, would that discourage other potential interested parties? Even so, it is possible that GRNOPC1 might be purchased for a very attractive “price” via a creative partnership.

If, as we hope, a new partnership allows the program to continue, would the CIRM loan still be available? If so, that would be a huge way to keep the momentum going. If not, then even with a new partner, the program could be greatly slowed, perhaps by years.

One of the wilder rumors is that the new partner will be CIRM itself, although I think that is not very likely.

Another rumor that is also fairly “out there” is that ACT will jump in and interestingly partner with its competitor Geron.

How will Geron’s stock behave tomorrow? Surprisingly, investors may reward Geron for narrowing their focus. Just as likely is that it will plummet. (Note, I’m not a financial advisor and I myself do not invest in stem cell stocks).

One consistent message I’m hearing is that Geron’s decision had nothing to do with the GRNOPC1 trial’s performance to date and that there still have not been any adverse outcomes.

Another consensus is that the decision by Geron to drop their stem cell program is directly attributable to their new CEO, John Scarlett. Perhaps former CEO Thomas Okarma was a more enthusiastic backer of GRNOPC1?

The stem cell community is worried about what this might mean for ACT and its stem cell trials using hESC-derived RPE.

The timing of Geron’s decision/PR could not be any worse, coming only 48 hours after a Vatican conference on adult stem cells that in a mix of religion and science, sent a lot of negative vibes the way of ESC research. I think we can be sure that the opponents of ESC will try to connect their conference with Geron’s decision.

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