Stem cell trial halted

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The world's first official trial using human embryonic stem cells in patients has been halted.

Geron, based in California, made the sudden announcement that it was halting further work in this field.

In a statement the company said in the "current environment of capital scarcity and uncertain economic conditions" it had decided to concentrate instead on developing cancer treatments.

Geron said it was seeking partners to enable further development of its stem cell programmes. The press statement implies the decision is purely a financial one - by stopping its stem cell programme it will cut its workforce by more than a third and save millions of dollars.

But the company has already invested tens of millions in the stem cell therapy over the past decade. Its submission to the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct the first trial in patients of human embryonic stem cells was the largest and most complex ever submitted.

Geron had injected stem cells into the spine of a small number of spinal patients to test safety. In its statement the company said the treatment had been "well tolerated with no serious adverse events".

The decision does seem to be extraordinary given the huge investment of time and resources. When I visited Geron nearly three years ago, the then chief executive Dr Tom Okarma claimed the technology had an incredible future (Green light for US stem cell work):

"What stem cells promise for a heart attack or spinal cord injury or diabetes is that you go to the hospital, you receive these cells and you go home with a repaired organ, that has been repaired by new heart cells or new new nerve cells or new islet cells that have been made from embryonic stem cells."

If that future exists, it won't be Geron that will now lead the way.

Ben Sykes, Executive Director of the UK National Stem Cell Network, said:

"Stem cell research continues to show great promise in helping many people currently suffering from incurable conditions and injuries. It is disappointing that Geron has taken the decision to stop its spinal cord injury trial but we hope that the company is able to find new partners who can take on the work and provide the necessary finance."

Joanna Knott, Co-Founder and Chair of SpinalCure Australia said: "This is incredibly sad and frustrating news for people with spinal injuries and their families. It is devastating for those people who will have a spinal injury and may as a result of this research been cured.

Daniel Heumann, who is on the board of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, was more forthright in The Washington Post online which reported him as saying: "I'm disgusted. It makes me sick. To get people's hopes up and then do this for financial reasons is despicable. They're treating us like lab rats."

John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at University College London said: "The Geron trial had no real chance of success because of the design and the disease targeted. It was an intrinsically flawed study. And for that reasons we should not be describing this as a set back.

"The first trials of stem cell that will give an answer are our own in the heart. The heart is an organ that can give quantitative data of quality."

Josephine Quintavalle from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "At long last after 10 years of unremitting hype, reality has caught up with embryonic stem cell claims. If Geron is abandoning this project it is because it is simply not working, despite the millions of dollars and hot air that has been invested in the promotion of this research."

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Interesting to read comments here from people who believe their god is anti embryonic stem cell research. Try suffering with an incurable disease, or watching a loved one suffer for 15 years with Parkinson's. Maybe you will understand just how offensive your comments seem to many of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    money cannot hamper scientific progress forever but bad table manners can. The block busters happened when the first objective was safety (of others). They stopped happening when the first objective became efficacy (for self). Teams can do more than gangs plus money can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    58.polcirkel :
    Folks who were ethically/religiously squeamish about Third Reich medical research/eugenics were called names, too.
    Demonising & name calling on either side serves no good purpose, only ill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @BluesBerry : Indeed there's always money available for evil purposes rather than for good purposes, because in our world, there's more money to be gained if people keep fighting each-other and dying rather than living peacefully.

    Back on topic : eventually stem-cell based treatment should bring cures for many things, money cannot hamper scientific progress forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    This sort of thing happens all the time. I have worked on projects for cancer and MS treatments that were abandoned principally for lack of money, not because they were failing scientifically. This looks like one of the other sort. One that had money, but was failing, so eventually the money went too. Projects that get funded aren't always the best ones. Just like life, I guess.


Comments 5 of 79



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