News24

US embryonic stem cell trial is halted

2011-11-15 19:45

Washington - The first-ever trial using human embryonic stem cells to treat paralysis has been halted due to high costs and the company, Geron, said it will focus instead on new cancer treatments.

The California-based biotech firm said it was also cutting 66 full-time jobs, or 38% of its workforce, according to a statement posted on its website.

"Geron plans to close the GRNOPC1 trial for spinal cord injury to further enrollment," the statement said, adding that the decision was made after a "strategic review" of costs and "regulatory complexities."

The study was meant to include up to 10 people in the first-ever trial of stem cell therapy on humans and began in October last year. Another company, Advanced Cell Technology, followed months later with a trial on blindness.

Geron said that in its phase I trial, which is meant primarily to gauge safety, "GRNOPC1 has been well tolerated with no serious adverse events."

It was unclear how many people have received the treatment.

The decision was greeted with anger by a board member of the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation, founded by the late Superman actor and his wife and which aims to cure spinal cord injury by funding new paths of research.

"I'm disgusted. It makes me sick," board member Daniel Heumann was quoted as telling the Washington Post.

"To get people's hopes up and then do this for financial reasons is despicable. They are treating us like lab rats."

Those who support embryonic stem cell research believe the field holds great promise for a host of ailments, from Alzheimer's to diabetes and more.

However the research is controversial because it requires the destruction of human embryos, and opponents say it violates their religious beliefs and is unethical.

Federally funded stem cell research was halted under the George W Bush administration, and though President Barack Obama lifted the ban in 2009, a host of legal battles have followed.

Scientists have also complained that a rush for patents on nearly every step of the process has made it nearly impossible to advance their work.