Literature of Disinformation
There’s a certain bitterness expressed by stem cell company execs toward venture capitalists. The perception is that venture capitalists are risk averse, more so than even microcaps, institutional investors, or hedge funds, according to Richard Garr, J.D., CEO of Neuralstem (www.neuralstem.com). Another exec even went as far as to say that venture capitalists were “brain dead” for not embracing a technology that has the potential to become more important than recombinant therapy.
“Venture capitalists don’t understand the science at all, and they can’t go to their usual suspects for guidance, because they either are aligned with somebody’s technology,” Garr comments, or they are too far removed from the field to comment intelligently. “The private sector, in many areas, is way ahead of the academic sector in the stem cell world.”
Research has been conducted on embryonic stem cells for slightly more than a decade but has been sharply limited in many nations. “A lot more is known about adult stem cells,” Bonfiglio says, as they have been the object of research for the past 40 or more years. “But, they are limited in scope. Embryonic stem cells address any disease in the body. The problem is finding and isolating them.”
Tom Okarma, president and CEO of Geron (www.geron.com), points to the “literature of disinformation.” Some researchers, “are furious about the fact that original stem cell lines are officially fundable and they are not getting funded,” he elaborates. Others criticize the quality of the original lines, muddling the issue for scientists and financiers alike.
According to Okarma, research papers suggest that the original stem cell lines approved for NIH research by President Bush in 2001 were contaminated and thus unfit for clinical trials. Yet, Geron is using two of those original lines successfully. The difference, he says, is that Geron treated the cells under GMP conditions. “The scientific community generally doesn’t understand that. Most academics have no experience producing or qualifying cells for human therapy.”
There’s another fallacy, too. A big question is whether human embryonic stem cells are scalable. Dr. Fambrough thinks not, presenting a repugnant specter of harvesting cells from fetal cadavers. Geron’s Okarma bristles at the notion, dismissing it as a gross inaccuracy. “We’ve done hundreds and hundreds of population-doubling procedures for some of our lines without any changes in the cells. Our lines are 100 percent scalable, are Bush-approved, and two of them are fully qualified for human use.”