For sale: Geron's stem cell program

As the global downturn squeezes the industry, all biotech companies are looking to make the most of their assets and rationalize their costs, and Geron is no different. The company has recruited St Louis-based broker Stifel Nicolaus to help it sell off its cell therapies, CEO John Scarlett told the gathered industry execs at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this week in San Francisco.

Back in November 2010, Geron announced that it intended to stop clinical trials in spinal injury patients and sell its embryonic stem cell therapy program, leading to a huge drop in stock value. This morning the financial impact seems to have been small, with Geron opening at $1.71, falling two cents from yesterday's close of $1.73. However, the company's stock price has seen an overall fall of 67% over the last year.

Geron has been advertising the partnering opportunities on its website and, according to Scarlett, is in active discussions with partners. The stem cell programs are in preclinical and clinical development and include potential therapies for central nervous system disorders, heart disease, diabetes, immunotherapy and cartilage repair. Geron will tighten its focus on its cancer therapies and has two agents in Phase II clinical trials, with results expected in late 2012. If these are successful, Phase II proof-of-concept data will give the company a solid scientific base to seek further partnerships or collaborations.

"Every company has to make decisions about what they can do, not just what they aspire, or like, to do," Scarlett told Bloomberg. "Today, more than ever, the resources of every biotechnology company at this conference are very finite."

The company has enough money to get through the clinical trials this year without seeking further funding, and the sale of the cell therapies could further boost funding. While embryonic stem cell therapies are still somewhat controversial, the clinical data that Geron has raised so far, and the areas of unmet need that it has targeted, could make this a tasty target.

- check out the article in Bloomberg