Obama lifts Bush restrictions on stem cell research

March 9, 2009

Mon Mar 9, 2009 6:24pm EDT

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

“We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research,” Obama said to vigorous applause at a White House gathering.

“We will also vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.”

Shares of companies specializing in stem cell research burst upward on the news, with Geron Corp (GERN) up by as much as much as 35 percent and StemCells Inc (STEM) up 73 percent at one point. Other related company shares rose, too.

The decision was a clear repudiation of the approach taken by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. U.S. law limits the use of federal money to make human stem cells, but Bush tightened the restrictions even further to include work using such cells.
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FDA allows first test of human stem cell therapy

January 23, 2009

Fri Jan 23, 2009 2:32pm EST
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for the first trial to see if human embryonic stem cells can treat people safely, a company involved in the controversial research on Friday.

Geron Corp (GERN), a California biotechnology company, said it plans a clinical trial to try to use the stem cells to regrow nerve tissue in patients with crushed, but not severed, spinal cords.

The issue of human embryonic stem cell research has been a political touchstone, with anti-abortion forces backed by former president George W. Bush arguing the technique involves the destruction of human embryos. Advocates say it could transform medicine.

“For us, it marks the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics. This approach is one that reaches beyond pills and scalpels to achieve a new level of healing,” Geron Chief Executive Dr. Thomas Okarma said in a telephone briefing.

Shares of Geron rose more than 53 percent to $8 in mid-morning trading on Nasdaq after touching $8.38.

Geron will recruit eight to 10 recently injured patients and inject them with small numbers of human embryonic stem cells manipulated to become the oligodendrocyte cells that insulate nerves, and that produce compounds to stimulate the growth of nerve cells.

Okarma said there was no political significance to the announcement coming the same week as President Barack Obama took office. Obama has been widely expected to lift restrictions on federal funding and support of human embryonic stem cell research.

An FDA spokeswoman said, “Before FDA allowed the study to proceed, Geron worked with FDA to address important scientific questions.”

CHEAP AND EASY

Okarma said the treatment should eventually become cheap and easy to mass produce because the cells can be grown in vats. He believes the cells may be useful for other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, in which nerve cells are stripped of their insulating sheaths, and perhaps strokes.

Financial analysts celebrated. Stephen Brozak and Daniel Mallin of WBB Securities LLC said it could “as important to drug therapy as the discovery of … penicillin.”

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