A few days ago Geron, while still undertaking the first clinical trial testing an embryonic stem cell therapy, decided to end further involvement, at least at the trial level, with embryonic stem cell research, announcing they would look for a partner to take over for them. The company's stated reason was the high cost of such undertakings given the present economic environment.
I wonder if they also asked themselves what might happen if they were successful with the clinical trial for spinal cord damage. I don't think this was a new question to Geron. As a private company they would have been considering potential markets and profitability. That would mean scaling production of what would have been described within certain concerned constituencies, such as the Catholic Church, as a production line of potential human beings sacrificed in the name of medical treatment. Along with the heavy cost of clinical trials I can easily imagine the company may have envisioned ethical attacks on several fronts in the event of the trial's success. That must of seemed daunting, for one of the traits of ideologues is their relentless, uncompromising pursuit.
In fact there is an argument to be made that suggests the size and determination of the ethical uproar might be, or might have been, in direct proportion to the success of the clinical trial. It's hard to imagine a private company facing that sort of relentless scrutiny and condemnation as they began to scale up and approach the market.
The reaction drawn by certain of our once prestigious financial institutions may also have served as one factor in Geron management's decision to abort. While I happen to believe that financial innovation and even chicanery in the name of profit without regard to systemic impact was the primary cause of the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis, as well as the recession to end all recessions, I cannot find an ethical reason why Geron should be condemned for research at the primary level with an aim toward improving therapeutic outcomes and saving lives.
Biotime Inc. and Advanced Cell Technology, two of our Stem Cell Sector Companies, continue to work toward therapies at the embryonic stem cell level. I wish them luck. It could easily be that due to Western ideological biases embryonic stem cell therapeutic advances will be relegated to nations not dominated by Western religions. If it happens, it will be our loss.