Geron in meltdown as lead cancer drug crumbles in Phase II

Just 10 months after new Geron CEO John Scarlett dumped a decade's worth of stem cell work in favor of a special focus on cancer drugs, the biotech has written off a pair of lead drug studies after tracking discouraging progression-free survival data in Phase II. Geron's shares ($GERN) collapsed on the news that it is halting a key breast cancer trial, shedding about half of their value as investors pondered the company's grim prospects.

Big trouble developed for imetelstat, involved in a 166-patient study for metastatic HER2-negative breast cancer, as researchers found that the paclitaxel comparator arm was doing better than the lead drug. And while the company is continuing another mid-stage study for non-small cell lung cancer, Geron says the data isn't adding up in its favor, which will likely prevent any Phase III trial.

Geron, though, says it still has hopes that imetelstat will work for hematological malignancies and is studying its effect on biomarkers for essential thrombocythemia and multiple myeloma. Top-line results are expected by the end of the year.

Quite a few investors, though, appear unwilling to stay on board for the ride. Geron is one of the oldest drug developers in the business with no product to show for the cost and effort. The company was launched 20 years ago and was once considered a leader in the troubled stem cell field, until Scarlett--who had been CEO of Proteolix--was brought on board and opted to circle the wagons around the cancer work.

- here's the press release

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