Stem Cell Stocks: Geron Corp. (Nasdaq:GERN)

Brian Hicks

Updated August 10, 2010

You may have never heard of Joseph Lister, but the odds are pretty strong that you’re familiar with at least one of the things named after him.

Originally developed as a powerful surgical antiseptic, his name can be found in a product called Listerine – that wonder of the dating world that “Kills the germs that cause bad breath.”

However, it’s not Lister’s contribution to commingling that actually made him famous. Instead, it was his contribution to the acceptance of the germ theory of disease.

Adding to the works of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, among others, it’s because of Dr. Joseph Lister that doctors wash their hands and clean their instruments, which believe it or not was a revolutionary idea at the time.

Because before it became commonly accepted that microorganisms can cause many diseases, “modern medicine” simply didn’t exist.

That’s why the germ theory is widely regarded as the greatest medical advancement of all-time, helping to lead us out of the dark ages and into a virtual medical renaissance.

It’s the point on the graph where the mortality rate of patients makes a dramatic and lasting turn to the downside, creating a pre- and post-germ theory world – one completely unlike the other. (Sort of like comparing apples to kangaroos.)

That’s exactly the type of seismic shift that regenerative medicine is about to usher in according to stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead.

The Next Breakthrough

In fact, the UC Irvine scientist believes that cells culled from a fertilized human egg that can grow into any type of cell in the body are a medical milestone seen only once every 100 years.

Accordingly, Keirstead says, “I have never seen in my career a biological tool as powerful as the stem cell. It addresses every single human disease.” (emphasis mine)

That’s a claim that, if proven true, has the power to create a pre- and post-stem cell world as radically different as the world that was changed by the germ theory.

It’s a gigantic leap that may just begin with this small step.  

On July 30th the FDA granted the go-ahead to the world’s first experiments with embryonic stem cells to treat humans using Keirstead’s work with spinal cord injuries as its basis.

As with the rats in Keirstead’s lab, scientists hope by injecting stem cells into the spines of volunteers they’ll be able to regrow damaged nerve cells allowing those patients to recover feeling and walk again.

“This is a first for the spinal cord field, a first for the stem cell field,” Keirstead said on the announcement. “Most importantly, it’s a victory for the patient community, which really has nowhere to turn. There are no treatments for spinal cord injury.”

Carried out by the California-based biotech company Geron Corporation (NASDAQ: GERN), these clinical trials are one of the only hopes for the over 250,000 Americans already living with a spinal cord injury.

Unfortunately, that’s a number that continues to grow since a spinal cord injury is sustained by an individual every 41 minutes

And I don’t have to tell you that the cost of this national tragedy – both emotionally and financially – is one that cannot possibly be measured.

Now after clearing a one-year FDA hold on the trial, Dr. Richard Fessler, who will lead the research, believes that if the treatment works it would be ‘revolutionary’.

“The therapy would provide a viable treatment option for thousands of patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year,” he said.

The Promise of Stem Cell Stocks

For Geron shareholders, that leaves the possibility of a “billion dollar toe wiggle” if Keirstead’s work can be duplicated and Geron’s GRNOPC1 works in human paraplegics.

If that is the case, the company’s biggest challenge may be turning back takeover bids, according to Stephen Brozak, an analyst with WBB Securities in New York. He recently said on Bloomberg that shares of Geron would soar on “volume of biblical proportions” if successful, while putting a $19 price target on the firm.

But in Geron’s case, the spinal clinical trials are only part of the bigger picture.

In a more permissive stem cell environment, Geron scientists now manufacture seven different types of potential treatments from embryonic stem cells, including:

  • Neural cells to treat spinal cord injury
  • Cardiomyocytes to treat heart disease
  • Pancreatic islet cells to treat diabetes
  • Dendritic cells for cancer therapy
  • Chondrocytes for arthritis
  • Osteoblasts to rebuild bone
  • Hepatocytes for drug discovery and liver failure

That pipeline makes Geron Corp. one of the top companies in the growing stem cell industry, where one success story is all it takes to reward investors.

That’s why I can’t help but believe we’re on the doorstep of the next great medical leap forward.

After all, if the germ theory could pull medicine out of the dark ages, imagine the advances regenerative medicine can bring about.

The possibilities in this case are endless.

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

 steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily

P.S. The biotech bull market is a story that we’ve been following for nearly two years now. In fact, our research has led us to a radical biotech stock that could be one of the sector’s biggest winners… To learn more, click here.

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