Xconomist of the Week: Evan Snyder—Stem Cell Reality Check

5/25/12Follow @bvbigelow

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do on spinal cord injury, and they started a clinical trial on Batten’s disease.

Again, it has nothing to do with the stem cell field. It has more to do with business and the patient population. Geron, a very well-funded company in the Bay Area, was in the midst of a clinical trial to use stem cell-derived products for repairing spinal cord injury. They had gotten an infusion of money from VCs, they had gotten an infusion of money from CIRM (the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine), and Geron abruptly terminated their trial.

They terminated it after they got a new CEO. What he said was that it had nothing to do with any complications. It had nothing to do with producing the cells. But they did a quick calculation, and saw how much it was going to be to do a full Phase I trial, recognized how much money it would take to do a Phase II and a Phase III trial. And they said there are not enough patients with spinal cord injuries to warrant a return on the investment. So it had nothing to do with stem cells.

A company doesn’t make a decision based on humanitarian indications or intellectual stimulation. They decided to turn the company completely [to focus] on cancer. They decided not to do anything neurologic at all.

Childhood diseases don’t have a chance. These are orphan diseases. Most neurological diseases are not money-makers. The diseases are horrible. The patients suffer. The families suffer, but it’s not a money-maker for companies. Maybe this is the reason you don’t go to the private sector and why the government does need to be involved in these diseases.

People won’t often talk about this, but a company would much rather sell a product that you’re going to need every day than something that’s going to [permanently] cure a disease. When we talk about stem cells, we talk about eradicating a disease. The goal in diabetes is not to continue taking insulin, it’s to give you back your insulin-producing cells so you don’t need anything at all. That’s not a money-maker, unless you’re charging a … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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