Thursday, October 3, 2013

New life for Geron's stem cell work

Almost two years ago, Menlo Park-based Geron abruptly stopped their clinical trial testing a stem cell approach to treating spinal cord injury. Theirs was the first trial approved to test cells derived from embryonic stem cells. (We wrote a Q&A about that move.)

The trial, which CIRM supported with a $25 million loan, stopped not because of any problem with the cells, but because the company had decided to focus on other disease areas. The company repaid their loan with interest.

Now, a newly formed company called Asterias Biotherapeutics Inc has closed a deal to purchase the embryonic stem cell assets and the rights to use a handful of cell lines. Asterias is led by Thomas Okarma, who was CEO at Geron through the development and launch of their spinal cord injury trial. He left the company in February of 2011, before the trial was stopped. Asterias is a subsidiary of BioTime, which is run by Michael West, one of the original founders of Geron.

Ron Leuty at the San Francisco Business Times wrote about the new company’s plans:
Asterias will receive four cell lines, including the neurology line used for the spinal cord trial. BioTime/Asterias said in a press release Tuesday that the line could be focused on multiple sclerosis and stroke.

Other cell lines include cancer, include a cancer vaccine ready for a Phase II/III trial, an orthopedics line that may target regeneration of cartilage to address osteoarthritis and human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes that could zero in on heart failure and heart attack.
The company hasn’t talked about whether they would consider re-opening the spinal cord injury trial, which had enrolled five patients when it stopped.

I talked with the fifth participant in that trial, Katie Sharify, about how she made the decision to participate in the clinical trial. There’s also more information on our website about other spinal cord injury awards we fund.

Amy Adams

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