Major Corporation Halts Embryonic Stem Cell Trial

A major research company has decided to halt its clinical trial using embryonic stem cells and focus the funds on cancer research instead.

Geron Corporation, a California-based company that in the past funded pioneering research on embryonic stem cells, announced Monday that it will discontinue its clinical trial.

As Geron focuses its funding and research on novel cancer programs, pro-life organizations see this as a victory in the effort to defend the sanctity of life.

Americans United for Life’s staff counsel Mailee Smith explained that the decision was “a blow to proponents of destructive embryo research.”

“Once again, researchers utilizing cells from destroyed embryos have failed to advance any cures or treatments,” said Smith.

“Geron was the first company to attempt human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells. Its failed attempt to produce any results could chill further requests to attempt such risky and unethical research.”

Dawn McBane, bioethics analyst for the family advocacy organization CitizenLink, called Geron’s decision a “huge victory” for pro-life activists.

“Pro-lifers have been saying for years that embryonic stem cell research is a dead-end road for research – from a scientific, financial, and ethical standpoint,” said McBane.

“Even though Geron was unconcerned with the ethical problems of killing young human embryos, the overwhelming unlikelihood of getting useful treatments out of embryonic stem cell research eventually led them to reconsider their efforts.”

Both Smith and McBane pointed to adult stem cells, or stem cells that are not harvested from human embryos, as being what researchers should invest their time in.

“There are no treatments or cures using embryonic stem cells, yet there are over 70 cures and treatments using adult stem cells,” said Smith, adding that adult stem cells “hold the key to medical advancement.”

“Not only do embryonic stem cells not work … adult stem cells continue to demonstrate that they are capable of treating dozens of diseases and injuries for thousands of patients around the world,” said McBane.

While pro-life groups celebrate, pro-choice organizations and embryonic stem cell researchers look upon Geron’s decision as a disappointing business move.

“Geron’s decision was driven by private business considerations,” said the Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

Veazey added that Christian and Jewish members of the RCRC “strongly endorse life-saving research with stem cells from embryos that would otherwise be discarded by the individuals who created them for infertility treatment.”

Dr. Timothy J. Kamp, professor of medicine and director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin, called the news “a disappointment.”

“The decision is a disappointment to most in the field because Geron has been a pioneer in advancing this promising research to clinical applications and completing a first clinical trial would be a milestone,” said Kamp..

Kamp believed that despite the setback, “the promise of stem cell therapies remains.”

“Researchers will continue to be driven by the scientific results to make progress in advancing new therapies using whatever cell sources are most effective,” said Kamp.

“In some cases, there remains strong rationale for using human ES cells as a promising cell source, so I expect that work will continue.”

According to a press release by Geron, the company decided to drop the clinical trial “after a strategic review of the costs, value inflection timelines and clinical, manufacturing and regulatory complexities associated with the Company’s research and clinical-stage assets.”

Geron’s decision involved the elimination of 66 full time positions with the company, which represents 38 percent of its workforce.