Shares of stem cell therapy pioneer Geron Corp. (GERN) plunged Tuesday morning after the company said it would abandon stem cell research because of the high costs and commercial uncertainties for the field. Other players pushing ahead with more efficient technologies.
Geron announced on Monday that it would stop enrolling patients in its study of a stem cell-based treatment for spinal cord injury, the first stem cell trial approved in the U.S. The company is seeking a buyer for its stem cell program and announced plans to lay off 66 of its 175 employees. Company executives said Geron would focus its resources on developing two mid-stage cancer drugs.
Wall Street analysts had seen Geron as the undisputed leader in stem cell therapies, thanks to a powerful research and intellectual property position and the firm helped finance researchers at the University of Wisconsin who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998. Despite many controversies, there was much hope that embryonic stem cells (early-stage cells capable of morphing into any of the more than 220 cell types in the human body) would emerge as an FDA approved treatment to replace or repair damaged tissue from ailments such as heart disease, Parkinson's, stroke and more.
Geron's exit leaves Advanced Cell Technology (ACTC.OB) as the only U.S. company actively pursuing human trials of an actual embryonic stem cell therapy. That company is testing stem cells against a rare vision disorder called Stargardt disease, which causes blindness.
Those familiar with the technology platforms presented by Advanced Cell and Aastrom Biosciences (ASTM) understand the progress the firms have made within the field of regenerative medicine and tend to be buy and hold investors in these firms. To them, the science these companies have spent tens of millions of dollars developing for years is getting closer to moving out of the lab and into patients eagerly awaiting life-changing treatments in markets with vast unmet medical needs that potentially represent billions of dollars in profits.
Other stem cell players have also introduced low-cost harvesting, more efficient handling methods and appear to be attracting the attention of both the investment and research community. IntelliCell BioSciences, Inc. (SVFC.PK) is attacking the challenges of regenerative medicine and the manufacturing of stromal vascular fraction (SVF) by using adipose (fat) derived adult stem cells. Late last month, an article in a leading peer reviewed journal showed that stromal vascular fraction stem cells show efficacy in treating periodontal disease. Sources say the company is on the verge of announcing some key research partnerships with major universities, In addition, professional athletes and their teams are said to be looking into the use of their own adipose stem cells to help them bounce back from orthopedic injuries.
BioMedReports first told readers about this company and shares have climbed from $3 to over $4.20 even in these anemic market conditions because the shares are so tightly held and the float so small.
Earlier this month, Pluristem (PSTI) the emerging stem cell company based in Israel issued an 8K stating the company had engaged a contractor to build out their manufacturing facility in Haifa at a cost of approximately $6.2 million. Shares of that company have been on the rebound since early October when analyst Ray Dirks and others pointed out that the company has the technology, patent position, and expertise to become a manufacturing leader in the space.
Even though they may not have been as vocal or visible about their moves, other publicly firms have been adapting their business propositions to investors in light of rapid advancements in the field (see article: "Did the Pope help the drop at Neostem") and we anticipate key announcements which will continue to expedite this trend and catch many investors who haven't been keeping up with the trends and research asleep at the wheel.
Disruptive technologies appear poised to challenge to the viability and business plans of other players in the crowded stem cell space.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.