August 28, 2006

An Across-the-Board Chorus Blasts Advanced Cell Technology’s Claims

Previous Post: Paging the SEC: Investigate Advanced Cell Technology

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Note: This post originally appeared at 8:25 this morning.
It will be kept at the top for the rest of Monday.

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Opponents of life-destroying Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) have vocally spoken out about both the legitimacy and purported moral acceptability of the research claims made by Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (ACT) in its announcement last week that it had “Generate(d) Human Embryonic Stem Cells that Maintains Developmental Potential of (the) Embryo.”

Objections from the Catholic Church and the prolife community might be seen by some to have been predictable. But that doesn’t explain why pro-ESCR scientists are also blasting ACT’s work and its claims.

From Life News (links within excerpt were added by me):

Catholic Church, Scientists Say New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Claims False

In a rare agreement on the thorny issue of embryonic stem cell research, the Catholic Church and scientists who back the destructive research both agree that a California biotech firm’s claims of creating a new method of obtaining embryonic stem cells without taking human life are false.

Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top embryonic stem cell research advocates in the United States, called the claims “all hype.”

Advanced Cell Technology published a paper last week in the journal Nature claiming to have used the single-cell biopsy technique called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) to obtain stem cells from 16 human embryos. However, further examination shows all 16 of the days-old unborn children died in the process.

“The science involved is not going to lead to any sort of ethical breakthrough,” Caplan wrote in an op-ed over the weekend.

Caplan said the cells ACT obtained may not act like embryonic stem cells obtained by the traditional method of killing human embryos. He also said couples would be reluctant to donate human embryos for the research and that the cells may only come from embryos with physical handicaps.

“Ultimately this so-called ‘breakthrough’ does little to quiet the critics of embryo destruction or the proponents of stem cell research using human embryos, such as myself,” he explained.
“What we have here is hype, not hope,” he added.

Top Stanford University researcher Hank Greely agreed.

“From the scientific perspective, never believe anything until it’s replicated several times,” he said. “It will be interesting and important to see if these cells turn out to be the same kind of cells with the same kind of promise as [embryonic] stem cells derived [traditionally].”

We can also add people with some knowledge of the investment community and the ESCR industry to those who don’t believe that ACT has accomplished anything significant. ACT was discussed on last Thursday’s public radio program “Marketplace,” (ram-format audio is at link). This is a program that I am nearly certain airs AFTER the markets close. Assuming I’m correct, following a day in which ACT shares opened at $2.30 and closed at $1.60, a fall over 30% over the course of one trading day, ethicist Glen McGee and Tufts University’s Jan Reichert both expressed severe reservations about the company’s claims:

CLENN MCGEE: Investors just aren’t buying it. I mean they don’t believe this kind of discovery is going to set Advanced Cell Technologies apart and they shouldn’t.

HELEN PALMER (Marketplace reporter): Jan Reichert of Tufts University says ethical issues aren’t the only problem. Stem cell therapy just isn’t ready for prime time.

JAN REICHERT: It’s not being picked up either by biotech or by the major pharmaceutical firms simply because the end use of them is not quite clear yet.

PALMER: Reichert says stem cells need five more years of basic research before venture capitalists will see enough returns in therapies and dollars to tempt them to invest.

Hmm. Somebody DID invest on Friday, two days after ACT’s announcement. Were they fooled?

And a whole lot of people must have thought that the “discovery” would “set ACT apart” on Wednesday (and maybe Tuesday, based on the day-before share price jump of over 50%), only to see the walls come tumbling down on Thursday and Friday (NASDAQ link is here; chart will change when the markets open on Monday):

According to NASDAQ’s web site, ACT has 27.7 million shares outstanding. Note that Wednesday’s, Thursday’s, and Friday’s trading volumes were 32%, 56%, and 36% of the company’s outstanding shares. The company’s 10/31/05 Proxy Statement (PDF; go to Page 5) shows that at that time, officers and directors of the company owned 22% of the company, and fund companies owned another 51%.

The chances that there is something fundamentally not right about all of this, and that financiers and/or public shareholders have been snookered, have to be seen as more than minor. The charges against ACT are not just coming from supposed moral puritans; they’re coming from just about anyone who invests a minimal amount of time looking into what’s being claimed vs. what has really been accomplished.

As I wrote Saturday:

If you think there’s more than a little reason to suspect that the investment funds, the officers, and/or the directors of ATC may have made a financial killing as a result of manufactured (and if Smith is right, now thoroughly punctured) hype at the possible expense of unjustifiably overexcited individual investors — well, so do I.

Earth to SEC: Investigate ACT. You might even consider having someone watch the airports and the borders.

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UPDATE: ACT stock (symbol ACTC) closed at 89 cents on Monday, down 7 cents, or 7.3%. Tuesday’s close: 86 cents. Wednesday at noon: 80 cents. Wednesday’s Close: 78 cents (a 3-day, 18.75% haircut).

UPDATE 2, Sept. 7: Michael Fumento gets in his rips, and they’re good ones:

For all the media mania, you’d never know the Lanza publication was just a 200-word letter that spent as much verbiage on theory as actually describing the experiment. As such, Nature had no business running it.

But as I’ve written elsewhere, Nature has long boosted embryonic stem cell (ESC) technology generally and the lifting of federal funding restrictions specifically, as has its American counterpart Science. Their eagerness to run anything promoting this view recently led to Science being forced to withdraw not one but two “ESC miracle breakthrough” articles.

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