CIRM comment on prospect of BioTime buying Geron stem cell program

BiotimeWhen biotech Geron punted on its embryonic stem cell (ESC) program despite having an ongoing FDA-approved clinical trial for spinal cord injury and tens of millions in loan funding from CIRM, many in the stem cell field were upset to put it mildly. Geron repaid the CIRM loan with interest.

At the time, the general feeling was that the odds of another company picking up the ESC program from Geron were low. However, ever since, rumors have gradually been popping up more and more often that a deal might be in the works.

Today Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times reports that a potential deal is not only in the works for BioTime to buy Geron’s stem cell portfolio (something that came out earlier), but that the parties are getting serious about this possible deal. A letter of intent, albeit non-binding, has been signed!

According to Leuty:

The BioTime bid was led by Geron’s founder and former CEO Michael West, now CEO of BioTime, and former CEO Tom Okarma.

Clearly West and Okarma are true believers in Geron’s stem cell program.Geron

The deal is a complicated one involving BioTime shares and a whopping $10 million from an unidentified private investor. It’ll be fascinating to eventually learn the identity of this investor.

Another interesting question is whether CIRM would financially support the program if it were purchased by BioTime since at one time Geron had received a large loan from CIRM.

I asked Kevin McCormack, Sr. Director of Public Communications and Patient Advocate Outreach at CIRM, about BioTime’s plan to buy Geron’s stem cell program.

McCormack said that BioTime would have to reapply for a CIRM loan. To me this seems logical.

He added:

we would be delighted to see a promising therapy, one that was dropped for financial rather than scientific or medical reasons, get a chance to complete its clinical trial

I think the idea of BioTime buying the Geron stem cell program is a great one that provides new hope on many levels.