Monday morning musings: stem cell stocks, ISSCR, grants, CRISPR, New Book, & more

Wake up, it's Monday

What’s on your mind on this Monday morning? Are you caffeinated enough yet? Depending on where you live it may even be time for dinner, bed, or already early Tuesday.

Here’s some musings…

To get safe and effective stem cell treatments to patients in a responsible, compliant manner you need commercial efforts and that in almost all cases means biotechs.

Doing this blog for 5+ years has made it really sink in just how crucial the commercial side is to all of our shared goals. This means that things like stocks, patents, etc. are really important for us all to think about including academics, patients, students, and more. Of course stocks are very important more directly to investors too.

I’m not a big investor overall and my only stock in the stem cell biotech world now is Ocata ($OCAT) in which I have a very small holding (consider this a disclosure). I like the company’s scientific leadership and its technology. Throw in some promising clinical trials for an area of huge need like macular degeneration and it’s hard not to get excited about Ocata. However, even as Ocata rang the bell at NASDAQ last week, the OCAT stock price has been getting its bell rung this year and in particular more recently it has dropped off a (small) cliff. I don’t claim to understand the subtleties of stock investing super well, but one gets a sense that the company is at a sensitive moment in its history right now. The above issues as well as some rumors and intangibles give a feeling of change in the air.

Of course Ocata is not alone. The stem cell  sector is super volatile and the stock prices of other stem cell companies routinely take beatings. For instance, StemCells, Inc. has had a pretty awful time of it lately on the stock front and things seem pretty dicey right now for them. I hope it can turn around. By the way, this post is clearly not financial advice.

More broadly in this area I suppose we can just hope for the best in terms of trial results and financials holding up during tough periods of time. This has been a tougher year than I had imagined on this front for the field. Stay tuned for more posts on stem cell stocks soon. Still it was good to see many stem cell biotechs at ISSCR making presentations of largely encouraging data.

Speaking of ISSCR, I wasn’t there myself, but the sense I got from some attendees is that it was fairly upbeat. Again, seeing more biotechs presenting talks than in the past is very encouraging. I believe that the more diverse that ISSCR can become the better. Stay tuned also for one or two more posts on ISSCR Stockholm including possibly more from Heather Main (see her posts here). It’s looking like Heather may become a more regular contributor to this blog, which I think would be awesome.

Grants are on everyone’s minds even more now than in historical times in science (i.e. meaning a few decades ago). In my 2+ decades in science in various positions I’ve never seen it quite this bad. These days it seems like I’m always working on at least one grant and sometimes several simultaneously. It eats up a lot of time, focus, and energy, but that seems to just be the new reality.

I consider myself lucky to have gotten one foundation grant funded recently. Even so we’ve all got constant worries on grants. I also recently participated again in another NIH study section, which is always a lot of hard work, but a huge learning experience.

CRISPR science has moved at warp speed, but there is also rapidly growing focus in the life sciences on policy issues related to CRISPR-Cas9 technology, particularly in 2015. The next 6-12 months are likely to prove crucial in determining the path forward including possible action by Congress, the NAS, and more.

In addition to participating in the dialogue, I am also currently finishing a new book on human genetic modification that will probably come out late this year or in early 2016. I hope that it educates and sparks more dialogue without getting me in too much hot water. Stay tuned for some previews/teasers on this book in the next month or two.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “postdoc crisis” of there being too few academic positions for postdocs, postdoc training periods being too long, etc. This problem has been growing over the years, sometimes the same possible solutions get trotted out, and people wring their hands, but nothing substantive changes. I don’t have some kind of miracle solution, but it is something we should all be thinking about. What might be some creative solutions?

Top 10 Insider Trends on Stem Cells to Look Out for at ISSCR 2015 Stockholm

isscr meetingThe annual ISSCR meeting has started in Stockholm.

This is always a great annual meeting both for the science and for connecting with people including new friends and colleagues as well as old friends.

Another element to the meeting is the insider conversations in the halls, restaurants, and bars that tell a behind the scenes story of the stem cell field.

Below are my top 10 things to look for that might be discussed over a beer or coffee this year. Also be sure to check out the wonderful guide to Stockholm from Heather Main and if you are there at the meeting enter our stem cell contests to win up to $100.

  • Clinics make an appearance? It’s a long shot, but I keep wondering if some of the stem cell clinic folks will show up at ISSCR some day to try to legitimize themselves even if they don’t speak, etc. Maybe they’ll sneak in with some posters or even just attend to make some connections. Unlikely, but if it happened could prove very interesting.
  • I’ll be curious if the Hanna-Silva feud of a sorts continues persist over ground state pluripotency, MBD3 and NuRD.
  • Does anyone still believe in VSELs?  A scandal is still smoldering there.
  • Anybody know what happened to Vacanti and the assumed to exist Brigham & Women’s/Harvard investigation over STAP cells? Last year in Vancouver at ISSCR STAP cells were one of the hottest topics.
  • Will Mitalipov continue to assert that NT-hESC are better than IPSC after the more recent paper (on which he was an author seemed to show otherwise)? More broadly will the SCNT/human therapeutic cloning folks continue to claim a clear path to the bedside?
  • Any news on Masayo Takahashi’s IPSC trial? More preliminary data?. I’m excited to see how that goes.
  • I keep hoping also that more biotechs will present at ISSCR and be given plenary talks.
  • Is ethics/policy given sufficient attention at the meeting?
  • Will CRISPR-Cas9 editing of stem cells be the talk of the meeting? The explosive trend of this amazing gene editing technology in science overall has really gripped everyone’s attention.
  • How many reports of clinical trial data will be given? Sometimes in the past ISSCR meetings have had a sizable tilt towards basic science. Could that be changing?

ISSCR 2015 Stockholm Contests $100 in Prizes

Amazon gift cardI wish I was going to be with all you who are attending the ISSCR Annual Meeting in Stockholm coming up in a week or so, but this year the schedule just doesn’t work.

I’ll try to be there in spirit.

For those of you attending, I do have something fun though and a chance to win some money.

I’m inviting attendees of ISSCR to submit entries in two contests: (1) guest blog posts and (2) pictures or videos from the meeting itself or from Stockholm.

Submit your entries to me by email: For videos, if large file size is an issue you can send me a DropBox or similar link.

The best quest blog post submitted to me will win a $50 Amazon gift card. You can submit more than one as well as long as it is on a different topic. The more interesting, timely and well-written the piece, the more likely it will win.

The top photo or video from the meeting submitted to me will also win a $50 Amazon gift card. I’m strongly encouraging people to submit videos (not taken of ISSCR talks). Such videos could be of scientists discussing stuff over coffee, beer, etc., interviews, videos of Stockholm, etc. Of course anyone in the photo or video needs to give permission for its use.

If I’m wowed by multiple awesome guest blog posts or photos/videos by different people, I may give more than one prize each for blog posts and photos. On the other hand if I don’t get excellent submission, it is possible that no one will win. I hope the latter does not happen.


Anyone can enter. Entries must be submitted before the meeting ends. The more timely the submission (e.g. guest blog post on talk sent to me within 12 hours of the talk) the better your odds.

If you blog about a talk at ISSCR that someone gave please get their permission if you intend to include mentions of unpublished data.

The blog post cannot be more than 300 words. Photos in blog posts are encouraged (you must have taken it yourself/have the copyright or have permission).

For the separate photo/video entries, you must have taken the photo or video yourself/have copyright.

All entries may be posted on this blog and by submitting yours you agree to that. Entries may be edited if they are posted.

I will be the judge of the winner and decisions are final.

The prizes are $50 Amazon gift cards in USD that will be received electronically.