Crossposted from Nature’s news blog
A company that pioneered embryonic stem cell research is walking out on the field it helped to create. Geron, based in Menlo Park, California, announced yesterday that it would kill off its stem cell program — and its landmark clinical trial of a treatment for spinal cord injuries — so that it can focus on cancer therapies.
For supporters of the technology, Geron’s exit is a blow. “This is very unfortunate for the field,” says Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology, the only other embryonic stem cell company with regulatory approval to conduct clinical trials in the United States. “It is a big deal. It certainly puts a lot of pressure on us to deliver now.”
Geron was the first company to gain approval from US regulators to conduct a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells. The company has treated four patients with spinal cord injuries since it launched the trial in 2010, and has reported that the treatments appear to be safe though they have not yielded any improvement in spinal cord function. The trial was only designed to test safety, however, and Geron has made it clear from the start that the company did not expect the treatment regimen — including the number of cells injected — to be sufficient to relieve paralysis in the ten patients it ultimately aimed to treat in its first trial.