The Corner

Fetal Stem Cell Company Goes Defunct

This is a warning about investor trawling, media hype, and the realities attendant to regenerative medicine.

Whenever a stem cell company–particularly one dealing with controversial tissues such as embyronic and fetal–announces CURES! CURES! CURES the media goes into full hype mode–unless it is an adult stem cell company in which bona fide successes are often ignored.

Then, when the controversial trial crashes and burns, the story is reported mildly as a business story of falling stock.

This just happened with Stem Cell Inc, which received much excited fanfare for supposedly using fetal stem cells to treat paralysis.

Oops. From the Reuters story:

StemCells Inc said it would wind down operations after the company terminated a mid-stage trial testing its therapy in spinal cord injury, sending its shares plummeting 85 percent. The magnitude of the treatment’s effect did not justify continuing the study given the financial resources available, StemCells said on Tuesday.

The Newark, California-based biotech said it had cash and cash equivalents of about $5.5 million as of May 31. The decision comes more than six months after StemCells said its spinal-cord injury therapy showed promising results, according to interim data from the mid-stage study.

The treatment, developed from tissues, improved the functioning and strength of limbs in patients with spinal cord injuries. “In the end, a combination of the tough market environment and long clinical path ahead drove a financial/clinical failure,” Maxim Group analyst Jason Kolbert wrote in a note.

Notice the story omits the part about using fetal cells, instead reporting gobbledygook, “developed from tissues.” That follows the usual media pattern: Tout if a seeming success, omit if a failure.

Remember this history the next time the media waxes ecstatic over an embryonic or fetal stem cell story.

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