Geron soars as marrow cancer drug shines in preliminary results

Geron ($GERN) got an early gift from its friends at the Mayo Clinic, as a release of upbeat imetelstat results sent its shares skyward Friday morning, rising as much as 30% in premarket trading on news its myelofibrosis drug triggered complete remission in some patients.

The top-line results were scheduled for a Monday release but popped up on Mayo's website late Thursday night, and investors were elated with the preliminary data. Mayo is studying the bone marrow cancer drug on 33 patients. Of the 22 on whom 6-month data is available, 5 experienced complete or partial remission. Two among that group posted complete molecular remissions, meaning their cancer was entirely vanquished.

Of course, the results are early, Mayo's Ayalew Tefferi said, but with some promising outcomes and an overall response rate of 41%, imetelstat has a chance to top the standard JAK inhibitors currently used to treat myelofibrosis.

"Some patients in our clinical trial taking imetelstat obtained dramatic responses, and there have been some complete responses, which is almost unheard of for drug therapy in this disease," Tefferi said in a statement.

Geron's shares jumped on the surprise release, soaring to nearly $8 premarket before settling at around $6.75, where they opened trading--a 15% leap over their Thursday close price. Last month, Geron popped thanks to an abstract laden with some promising three-month data from the same trial.

Both Geron and imetelstat could use the good news. After slowly backing away from stem cells and rebranding itself as an cancer-focused biotech, the company took a beating last year when imetelstat failed to beat out the control arm in a Phase II study on HER2-negative breast cancer. Lukewarm results for the telomerase-targeting drug in non-small cell lung cancer led Geron to scrap that effort, too.

But the 9-lived compound has found new hope in myelofibrosis, and now we'll see whether it can live up to investors' optimism.

- read the release