Great news: BioTime Subsidiary Asterias Acquires Geron Embryonic Stem Cell Program

Asterias BioTimeBioTime (BTX), via its subsidiary Asterias, has formally purchased the Geron (GERN) embryonic stem cell (ESC) research program and assets.

Incidentally, Asterias in nature refers to a genus of sea stars including starfish and you can see it in their logo. Perhaps this was chosen given the amazing regenerative capacity of starfish?

You may recall that Geron decided not to continue its ESC program despite having an active, FDA approved early clinical trial underway.

There was great concern that the program could die, but today’s news cements the notion that the program is on its way to being fully active again via Asterias.

I got a quote from Dr. Michael (Mike) West of BioTime on this development last night:

“I and the previous team at Geron, including Dr. Tom Okarma who ran Geron for many years, felt a deep sense of duty to join forces in an attempt to acquire and reassemble the stem cell assets of Geron. It hasn’t been easy, but I am happy to say that as of today, the programs are officially reborn as “Asterias Biotherapeutics.” A lot has been learned in the meantime about how to retool the process development to make a better product. In addition, the combined intellectual property assets of BioTime (which previously had acquired ES Cell International of Singapore) and Geron, may make it easier to advance business development as well. Bottom line, we all now back in the race full speed to translate this technology to as many critical medical applications as possible.”

What exactly did Asterias get in this deal? The PR spells it out:

Under the terms of the Agreement, Geron has contributed to Asterias its stem cell intellectual property,  multiple lots of OPC1 drug product (hES cell-derived oligodendrocytes) used in the world’s first human clinical trial of hES-derived cells in subacute spinal cord injury, multiple lots of hESC manufacturing cell banks – the starting material to manufacture additional lots of OPC1 drug product and to produce dendritric cells for cancer immunotherapy, chondrocytes for cartilage and disc repair, and cardiomyocytes for heart disease.  Geron has also contributed all of the clinical and regulatory documents pertaining to the OPC1 and VAC1 (autologous dendritic cells) clinical trials, as well as a series of stem-cell-related out-licenses.  Asterias has entered into an exclusive sublicense with Geron for using telomerase as an antigen for the VAC1 and VAC2 (hES-derived dendritic cells) product candidates.

Important questions that remain include how or when the FDA-approved trial might come out of hibernation. Can the efforts obtain CIRM funding as Geron once had for this program?

The financials of the deal are too complicated for me, but I found it interesting and notable that an entity called “The Romulus Films, Ltd”, which as best as I could tell used to be a prominent film production company, has invested millions in BioTime and in this current deal. I’m not clear whether now this company is an investment firm.

Some may recall I’ve got an ongoing interview series, not quite complete, going with Mike West. You can read the previous interviews here and expect to see two more parts in the near future.

I’m expecting great things from Asterias and BioTime!

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