About a year and a half ago I reported on the first clinical trial of a therapy using stem cells (this blog, Aug. 1, 2010). The trial, run by Geron Corporation, was designed to treat patients suffering from spinal cord injuries with neuronal cells grown from stem cells.
This past November Geron announced that it was cancelling the clinical trial and its entire stem cell research program. In a statement, the company said only that it will “discontinue further development” of its stem cell programs in order to focus on several promising new cancer drugs. According to Geron it was a decision based on the need to save money. By abandoning its stem cell research program, Geron will lay off 66 staff members and save about $25 million a year, according to a news article in Science.
Only four spinal cord injury patients were treated before the trial was terminated.. Preliminary results showed that their conditions did not improve after treatment.
Cancellation of the trial is certainly a setback for stem-cell-derived therapies, but it is not an outright disaster. At least one other clinical trial of a stem-cell-derived therapy, for macular degeneration, is already underway at a company called Advanced Cell Technology. And it’s still possible that another company will buy Geron’s stem cell program assets, which included work-in-progress on treatments for several other diseases.