Jonathan Thomas is Chair of the CIRM governing board
Yesterday our governing board met for the first time since Geron announced the decision to terminate their stem cell research program. I wanted to take that opportunity to address the board and let them know my strong commitment to CIRM’s stem cell research program.
When Geron made their announcement our immediate concern was for the patients and their families who were disappointed at the termination of a trial that was a source of such hope for the future. Geron has been a true leader in the field and a source of inspiration for patients and their families. They broke new ground, becoming the first to start a Food and Drug Administration-reviewed trial based on human embryonic stem cells. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the two additional trials now underway for forms of blindness and for those trials that are close to submitting applications to the FDA.
However, Geron is a business. The company decided that their cancer therapies were farther along than the stem cell trial and when they held the stem cell program against the prism of economic reality they made a business decision to end the trial. The company is now looking for a partner to carry the research forward.
There are those who have extrapolated Geron’s business decision to question stem cell science. I say to those people: If you were to query the many researchers worldwide and companies involved in developing products you would hear unwavering enthusiasm for pursuing stem cell technology.
I was just at the excellent Stem Cells on the Mesa meeting in La Jolla where I heard from those researchers and investors. We spent the first day hearing about the incredible scientific advances taking place in the stem cell field. The next day we attended a business and investor partnering forum (sponsored in part by CIRM) where the same message of enthusiasm for stem cell science echoed just as strongly.
CIRM’s award to Geron was just one of the 44 projects in 26 disease areas that are in various stages of working toward clinical trials. (I blogged about those projects recently.) We remain optimistic about those research programs and are totally committed to the projects we have funded to-date and to the research we will fund in the future.