November 30, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The Scarlett letter? What the experts really think about Geron

The grapevine is afire with the Geron news and there are many interpretations out there of what it means and why it happened.

Based on several accounts from folks who remain anonymous, here is the most probable prediction of what happened to lead us to yesterday’s announcement.Geron, stem cell treatments

Geron has been worried for a long time about its finances (aren’t all biotechs worried in this way, all the time?), but this concern has been heightened more recently and was the reason that former CEO Okarma was replaced with John Scarlett. Mr. Scarlett is viewed as a pragmatist who is most committed to and experienced with cancer research products. Scarlett’s cancer background is unlikely to be coincidental and it doesn’t take a genius to imagine why Geron is now solely focused on cancer research.

Okarma was a stem cell guy, while Scarlett is a cancer guy. The leadership of Geron wanted to focus on cancer and had made this decision months ago as reflected in their choice of new CEO. However, they wanted to wait to see if there were any signs of efficacy of their stem cell drug GRNOPC1 before making a final decision about their stem cell program. While GRNOPC1 appears safe, the Phase I Trial’s first 4 patients reportedly have not shown any signs of efficacy. Importantly, of course, a Phase I Trial is not designed to evaluate efficacy, but one can hope, right? When Geron saw no signs of efficacy, which likely was unrealistic of them to hope for in a Phase I Trial, nonetheless that was the final nail in the coffin of their stem cell program.

While some may blame and already are stigmatizing Scarlett for this decision, what I’m hearing would suggest that the initiation of the process that ultimately led to the decision to end the stem cell program preceded his hiring and actually guided his hiring, but simply wasn’t finalized until the trial did not show clear efficacy. However, I think it is safe to say he certainly did not save the stem cell program and in the end may have been the one who pulled the plug.

Given the situation, Geron’s decision may well have been premature and their GRNOPC1 product may actually have proven to be save and effective, but now we might never know. I hope someone steps in and continues the work!

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