About two months about Geron shocked and disappointed the stem cell community by dropping its stem cell program. The move was reportedly made for financial, not scientific reasons.
Biotech companies have to be financially sound in order to help stem cell researchers turn science into cures and Geron’s leadership had to do what it thought important. Even so, I think Geron made the wrong move and I called it the biggest misstep in the stem cell field of 2011 in my post Stem Cell Awards for 2011, one of this blog’s most read posts ever.
For years, Geron and Advanced Cell Technology, the two companies furthest along in pursuing human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-based regenerative medicine therapies, have been linked together. I’m not sure the companies enjoyed this relationship and from what I hear many viewed the two as fierce competitors.
As of July 2011, both companies had treated patients in hESC-based early phase clinical trials. A month earlier in June 2011, I did a post questioning whether ACT and Geron were allies or competitors. My feeling was that they were allies in reality, despite the competitive feelings between investors in the companies. I still felt that way when Geron punted.
So where does Geron’s exit leave ACT?
ACT’s trials are ongoing, but as Robert Lanza, CSO of ACT recently put it, Geron’s departure leaves all the focus (and pressure) on ACT. They really are alone out there at the moment.
In my Top 10 stem cell predictions for 2012 posted on December 7, 2011, my #1 most important prediction for the whole stem cell field was that ACT’s clinical trials would show their RPE product to be safe in 2012. Regarding efficacy, I also said “I hope the data points in that direction”.
It’s only mid-January 2012 so there’s still plenty of time this year for ACT to let us know how things are going with their trial. Remarkably, ACT’s stock (symbol ACTC) is up 72% in 2012 so far, suggesting that investors believe in this company and are optimistic about its hESC drug trial. You can tap into the chatter between ACT investors at the ACTC investorshub website (be prepared for a lot of speculative comments on there) and also more generally in the stem cell field at investorstemcell.com.
I think Geron’s departure is not good news for ACT by any means, but I also believe that ACT has matured as a company and can handle being the only one in the spotlight for the moment. My hope is that additional companies will start clinical trials using hESC as well in the next year or two, but it could be a while….so for the time being ACT, you are the one star out there.
Disclosures: I do not currently have investments in either company discussed in this post. I am not a stock analyst and recommend that investors consult a professional advisor before making investment decisions.