Marking a sharp change in strategic direction, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine has pumped $25 million into Geron to support its clinical trial work on a pioneering embryonic stem cell therapy for spinal cord damage. Up until now the $3 billion state program has been focused on a burst of stem cell science projects; basic research needed to identify potential treatments in the lab. But this new funding reflects its decision to start funding actual trial development of therapies as it helps advance potential cures toward approval.
"Supporting the Geron trial is a landmark step for CIRM," said Robert Klein, the agency's chairman.
Geron attracted worldwide attention when it launched its Phase I ESC study last fall after a lengthy delay. Researchers are testing the safety and tolerability of GRNOPC1 in patients after reporting success with animal studies. This early-stage development work is fraught with risk, though. And CIRM's new commitment to helping escort developers through the Valley of Death and on to the point where they have solid proof-of-concept data in hand will provide some badly needed financial support at a point when it is often the hardest to come by.
"It could provide cures. That's what everyone wants," said consumer advocate John M. Simpson. "I'm watching it with interest." CIRM hasn't stopped funding basic science. The organization also announced $37.7 million in new grants for science research.