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News! Geron shuts down ESC research

This is big news, and good news to pro-lifers. Wesley J. Smith has the story, to the extent that we know the story. Geron, the biggest company involved in ESCR, has shut down their unit altogether, citing a desire to save money. This is the company that just got FDA approval for, and presumably began, a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells.

There has to be a story there. Why suddenly now? This should be a place for investigative research to go to town, but don't hold your breath. We will probably never know the details. One possibility that WJS brings up concerns the European ban on patenting products made from embryonic cells, which would cut into profits. That ban was recently upheld in a court. It's also possible that something was going wrong, at a level that could bring significant liability, with the clinical trial. That, of course, is conjecture.

My own cynical take is that whatever the real reason, even if it was something negative happening with the clinical trial, or even if it was a realization that this would not actually result in any useful treatments within any foreseeable period of time, it will be left as "conserving funds" in order to find a way to continue blaming conservatives for not tapping the supposedly marvelous curative properties of human sacrifice....er...ESCR,

Meanwhile, Wesley has reported repeatedly (see his links) on the far greater potential from ethical research, including IPSCs and adult stem cells, a potential that is scandalously underreported in the media.

Comments (8)

Perhaps this is impossibly naive on my part, but is there any reason it couldn't be exactly why they said it was? I.e., some high-level accountant looked at the bottom line of time and money in vs. profit out, and finally said, "Enough -- we can't afford this anymore"?

It is depressing, of course, to see decisions about human life made on this basis, but in a weird way I find it reassuring that the universe can occasionally be so ordered that the morally right thing to do is also the practically best thing to do.

Oh, that could well be. In fact, I'm quite sure the bottom line had something to do with it. But there are going to be details to that, and the question also arises--why now? Surely they _did_ do that sort of reasoning before putting this much money in already. It's not as though this would be the first time they thought about the bottom line. It looks like some sort of new information has recently become available.

Hi Lydia,

Great news! By the way, here's something I've recently written which might interest people in the pro-life camp:

(Embryo and Einstein: Why They're Equal)

Best wishes,


"Surely they _did_ do that sort of reasoning before putting this much money in already."

You'd think, wouldn't you? But the fact is the majority of R&D funding is, not wasted precisely, but spent to no directly useful result; and every researcher/developer keeps insisting that with just a little more time and money the breakthrough and payoffs will come.... That's the nature of R&D as an industry, in any field (look up the state of the fusion energy enthusiast community sometime), which is one reason the arguments about ESCR's ongoing lack of results have failed to gain traction for so long.

As for blaming lack of funding for poor results, and using that as a club to beat conservatives, I'd be more worried about that if ASCR and ethical research weren't doing so well, comparatively. (There's also the fact that right now, people seem very slowly to be coming around to the notion that everybody has overspent and everything is going to take an unpleasant and unavoidable hit, which undermines the "blame the greedy/this didn't have to happen" meme.)

Stephen, I appreciate your info. Would you say that in the middle of a clinical trial is a typical time to shut the whole thing down? I mean, maybe it is. I don't know. That isn't snark. One would perhaps expect that a clinical trial would reveal previously unexpected costs. But it would be useful to know in more detail what their calculations were based on here. For one thing, knowing that could make it clear that the hype about ESCR really is just hype--which is what many have suspected all along, if for no other reason, because of the cancer potential from implanting pluripotent cells. (IPSCs have that same problem, by the way.) While that is all left vague, the hype can continue unabated.

In case you haven't seen it, there appears to have been a major breakthrough in the use of adult stem cells to treat heart failure. It was formerly thought that heart tissue once dead was dead always. That may not be the case: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8888447/Heart-repair-with-stem-cells-biggest-breakthrough-in-a-generation.html

I hadn't see it, Bill. That's wonderful. It's to the point where the good news about adult stem cell treatment is almost "another day, another ASC breakthrough."

And no raised cancer risk with adult stem cells.

"Would you say that in the middle of a clinical trial is a typical time to shut the whole thing down?"

There are usually multiple trials going on at any one point, and any given trial can last for weeks to months, so it's hard for any medical R&D to pick a shut-down time that won't kibosh at least one trial mid-process (especially if circumstances preclude a gradual phase-out). That said, the original WaPo article seemed to indicate that they planned to continue and, I presume, complete the spinal-cord trial mentioned as having begun in October 2010; they simply aren't going to be enrolling any new subjects or initiating anything else.

The bias of the original article notwithstanding, it really does seem to me that this is a case of an ill wind blowing at least some good: the combination of economic downturn and hyperactive regulation (it's a California company, I couldn't help but notice) is simply drying up the venture capital. Nobody wants to invest without higher confidence of speedy and profitable payback, and ESCR simply hasn't panned out. (Although the suddenness and acuteness of the cuts reminds me a little of the Solyndra debacle, as well -- I wonder if new CEO Dr. Scarlett found a house in much worse order than he expected.)

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