Stem cell developer reveals second patient death as criticism builds

Pluristem Therapeutics ($PSTI) fired off a press release yesterday demanding corrections to a Bloomberg article this week about the company's stock sale that followed the undisclosed death of a patient who got the biotech's experimental stem cell therapy. Below the demand, in its statement, the company let loose another important detail: That not one, but two of three patients who received its therapy under compassionate-use guidelines died after treatment.

Bloomberg harped on the second death and appeared to stand by its earlier story, which precipitated a steep fall in Pluristem's stock price yesterday. The decline followed jumps in the Israel-based developer's stock price earlier this year after it announced incredible results.

Pluristem has taken flak this week for its press release that hailed the lifesaving benefits of its stem cell treatment for the child, who later died, a detail that went unreported in the press until Wednesday. The company says that it was unaware of the death of the child at the time of a $34 million stock sale in September, Bloomberg reported.

"Pluristem was not monitoring the patient and learned of her death at the discretion of her family and physician," the company said in reaction to Bloomberg's report from Wednesday. "In addition, the formal report relating to the death clearly stated that there was no connection between the PLX cell treatment and the death of the patient."

Yet in the ultimate analysis of Pluristem's actions, who knew what and when might be less important than how the company handled the publicity of the compassionate-use cases in press releases that announced miraculous and lifesaving results. Words like "miracle" seldom make it into news releases about experimental drugs, and now we see one of the latest examples of why that is.

"Such press releases risk misleading investors by creating overly optimistic account of scientific research," Leigh Turner, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics, said in a blog posting yesterday, as quoted by the news service.

- here's Pluristem's statement
- check out Bloomberg's article