Ex-Geron chief spearheads bid to revive mothballed stem cell studies

Back in early 2011 Geron CEO Thomas Okarma was forced to step aside as the biotech prepared to bring in a new CEO to restructure the operations, putting a leading stem cell program in mothballs and pushing a more narrow focus on cancer drugs--which hasn't gone so well. Now Okarma is back, leading a new regenerative medicine venture set up by BioTime. And he wants his stem cell work back.

Just days ago BioTime issued a letter to Geron's shareholders outlining a deal it's offered to Geron ($GERN). BioTime and Okarma offered $40 million in BioTime stock and a big stake in a new public company that would develop the stem cell assets to Geron's shareholders, pointedly reminding them that more than a year has gone by without a deal. And BioTime suggested the shareholders might like to get on the phone and demand that the Geron board strike a deal.

BioTime ($BTX), which is run by Geron founder Michael West, set up BioTime Acquisition Corp. under Okarma in September with an eye to buying stem cell and regenerative medicine assets. And while Geron long ago bowed out of stem cells, after gaining the green light to launch the first U.S. trial for any stem cell treatment, CIRM has been keeping tabs on the four spinal injury patients who have been treated. 

"I'm happy to say that everything is still fine," CIRM's Kevin McCormack tells New Scientist, "which is a good sign for anyone buying the cell lines as it gives them a strong starting point for further clinical trials." CIRM provided major support for Geron's work.

Geron's abandonment of stem cell research work was seen as a major setback for the entire field a year ago, a sign of investors' growing distaste for R&D work that went on years and years. Recently the company's mid-stage cancer drug flunked out with bad PFS data, triggering a meltdown in its share price 10 months after John Scarlett took over as CEO.

- here's the release from BioTime
- get the story from New Scientist