Geron Shares Fall by Half After Cancer Drug Fails

By Brett Chase  SEP 10, 2012 10:35 AM

The company that scrapped its stem cell program last year to focus on cancer treatments said its lead drug failed in a breast cancer trial. The biotech also won't pursue additional lung cancer trials.


MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Shares of Geron (GERN) plunged by more than half after the company said an experimental drug failed in a trial testing the treatment for breast cancer and that it’s also unlikely the therapy, imetelstat, would move into another phase of separate studies for lung cancer.

Geron CEO John Scarlett told investors on a call Monday that the company still believes its drug imetelstat has potential to treat other diseases. However, the drug will no longer be tested for breast cancer, a potentially large treatment market. The company also doesn’t expect to enter into a final phase of studies for lung cancer after the treatment showed a “modest trend” of effectiveness in patients.   

“These are not the kind of clinical results we enjoy sharing with you,” Scarlett told investors and analysts on a call. Saying he’s “obviously disappointed” with the results, he asked investors to look at the remainder of the company’s clinical program.

Imetelstat will still be studied for treatment of multiple myeloma and a blood disorder known as essential thrombocythemia, areas that represent unmet medical needs, Scarlett says. The company also continues to study another drug known as GRN 1005 for the treatment of cancer that has spread to the brain as a result of breast or lung cancers. Research for imetelstat is farther along than the other experimental therapy.

The news is striking considering that Geron doubled down on cancer research late last year. Long known as a pioneering stem cell company, Geron announced in November that it was shedding its long-running research program in that area and would focus on cancer. (See Geron Falls After Scrapping Stem Cell Program.) While that decision initially hurt the stock, the shares had been on a run lately, more than doubling in the past three months.

Shares fell 52% to $1.39 in morning trading Monday. The company lost almost $200 million in market cap.

Geron tested imetelstat for breast cancer patients in a mid-stage trial of 166 patients. The drug was tested in combination with the older chemotherapy paclitaxel.

The company plans to disclose top-line data for the GRN 1005 trials by the end of the second quarter of next year. A presentation of interim data is expected at a medical meeting in San Antonio in December.

Twitter: @brettchase

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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