Medical insurance news - First official stem cell trial stopped
The world's first official trial using human embryonic stem cells in patients has been stopped due to the "current environment of capital scarcity and uncertain economic conditions," a statement read.
Geron, the biopharmaceuticals company developing the treatment of cancer and chronic degenerative diseases in medical insurance customers, said it would be seeking new partners to enable further development of its stem cell programmes.
According to BBC News' medical correspondent Fergus Walsh, it is understood the postponement of the trial is purely a financial decision and the company will cut its workforce by more than a third as a result.
The organisation's submission to the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct the first trial in patients of human embryonic stem cells was the most complex and largest ever seen and tens of millions were invested into the therapy in the past decade.
Mr Walsh said cutting the trial was an extraordinary decision given the amount of investment that Geron had put into stem cell research.
In October 2010, the company injected stem cells into the spine of a 21-year-old Alabama nursing student and since then three others have had the same treatment. Geron, though, only announced the treatment had been "well tolerated with no serious adverse events".
Former chief executive of Geron Dr Tom Okarma suggested that stem cell treatment could mean people with heart attacks, spinal cord injuries or diabetes could go to hospital, receive these cells and go home with a repaired organ.
Executive director of the UK National Stem Cell Network Ben Sykes said stem cell research continues to show great promise in helping people suffering from incurable conditions.
"It is disappointing that Geron has taken the decision to stop its spinal cord injury trial but we hope that the company is able to find new partners who can take on the work and provide the necessary finance," he added.
Daniel Heumann, who is on the board of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation told the Washington Post the decision to cut the trial for financial reasons was "despicable" because it had unnecessarily got so many people's hopes up.
Professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University College London John Martin was reported as saying the Geron trial never had any chance of success because the design and targeting of disease was flawed.
"The first trials of stem cell that will give an answer are our own in the heart. The heart is an organ that can give quantitative data of quality," he added.
Josephine Quintaville from the Comment on Reproductive Ethics group, however, was reported as saying that if Geron was abandoning this project it is because the stem cell research is not working, rather than any financial reasoning.
A study published in Nature last month claimed to have used cells from health insurance subscribers with a genetic liver condition in order to generate a cell type called induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the ability to transform into other types of cells.