November 15, 2011

As Firm Ends Embryonic Stem Cell Efforts, Reuters Notes Adult Cell Results; AP Totally Fails

Give Ben Hirschler and Kate Kelland at Reuters credit for a fair presentation this morning of the relative progress made in adult stem cell research compared to that achieved thus far in the embryonic arena. Maybe it was because they were reporting from London, where the constraints of insufferable political advocacy in journalism seem (sad to say) less present than they are in the U.S. Meanwhile, Health Writer Matthew Perrone at the Associated Press couldn’t even bring himself to recognize the existence of adult stem cells in his Monday afternoon report, and in the process wrote a flat-out fib about the number of FDA-approved stem cell clinical trials taking place.

The occasion for coverage was Geron Corp.’s decision to halt the first government-approved clinical trial involving embryonic stem cells. What follows after the jump are the first six paragraphs from the Reuters analysis:

A decision by one of the biggest names in stem cell research to throw in the towel will not stop other pioneering work that could yet produce cures for blindness and help mend broken hearts.

Scientists were shocked by U.S. biotech company Geron Corp’s decision on Monday to quit embryonic stem cell research — a move it blamed on a lack of money and the complexities of getting regulatory approval.

Yet, at the same time, teams working with adult stem cells — a less ambitious area — are making good progress.

“This is not the end of an era,” said Dusko Ilic, senior lecturer in stem cell science at King’s College London.

Shortly before Geron told the world it was ending further development of its embryonic stem cell projects, Australia’s Mesoblast Ltd reported its adult stem treatment slashed the rate of further heart problems in heart failure patients.

“It’s a tale of two ends of the market. I believe the adult stem cell space was always more attractive anyway,” said Navid Malik, a biotechnology analyst at Merchant Securities.

Perrone at the Associated Press failed to even recognize the existence of adult stem cell research, let alone the progress made in that arena, and acted as if nothing meaningful will ever be accomplished unless it occurs through the use of embryonic cells. Perrone’s fib is in the second-last excerpted paragraph below:

Geron Corp. is exiting the field it pioneered in a calculated business move that underscores the long, costly path embryonic stem cells face to become real-world products.

Late Monday, the company said it would halt its study of a stem cell-based treatment for spinal cord injury, the first embryonic stem cell trial approved in the U.S.

Geron’s withdrawal leaves a handful of U.S. companies pursuing medicines using embryonic stem cells, which are capable of morphing into any of the more than 220 cell types in the human body. Scientists hope that one day stem cells might be used to replace or repair damaged tissue from ailments such as heart disease, Parkinson’s and stroke.

… Experts say Geron’s departure is more a symbolic setback than a real one, since the vast majority of work in the field will continue to be funded by government and academic institutions.

Geron said it still believes in the potential of stem cells and the company is seeking a partner or buyer for its stem cells division.

Despite the promise, the payoff from stem cell research was too far off for Geron. It has no products on the market and would have spent $25 million per year to continue its stem cell program…. Last year Geron launched the first U.S. study of a stem cell treatment in humans: an injection of 2 million stem cells designed to repair spinal cord injury.

But late Monday, the company said the high costs and commercial uncertainties of stem cell research forced it to close the study and instead focus on the more lucrative, predictable market for cancer therapies.

Geron’s study may have been the first embryonic study, but a quick search through the Adult Stem Cell Research Network website indicates that there are at least five studies involving adult stem cells which are FDA approved (here, here, here, here, and here). There are probably very many more; I just went to one source to show easy it was to disprove Perrone’s ridiculous claim.

One doesn’t want to lobby a charge that a news organization appears to be deliberately favoring life-taking research over that which passes ethical muster for purely political reasons. But what else explains the grim determination by the self-described Essential Global News Network to wish away adult stem cell research and fail to acknowledge its accomplishments?

Cross-posted at


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