November 30, 2022

Funding deserts embryonic stem cells

Massachusetts company ready to fold

Michael West, CEO of ACT, enjoying the spotlightThe world’s best-known company dealing in embryonic stem cells may have to
close its doors. Advanced Cell Technology is a Massachusetts company which
claimed in 2001 that it had cloned human embryos. That set off a firestorm of
controversy. Since then, it has developed several innovative techniques for
dealing with human embryonic stem cells, and has tried to clone extinct species.
Its scientist have often been quoted in the press and in scientific journals
about the potential of embryo research.

However, in a terse announcement to the Securities and Exchange commission, it
said that it may have to shut up shop if it can’t obtain additional funding by
July 31. It has US$17 million in current liabilities, but only $1 million in
cash and other current assets. It could even be forced to file for
bankruptcy.

One problem with ACT was its CEO’s reputation as a publicity hound. When
Michael West announced that ACT had cloned a human embryo, he was given a
special section in Scientific American, appeared on Meet the Press and testified
before Congress. But it turns out that the claim, even if true, was ultimately a
failure. The embryo was impaired. Now West has left the company and is suing for
UD$26,250 in unpaid consulting fees, plus interest and legal fees.

The problem also lies with the concept of therapeutic cloning. With no
results to show for a lot of cash burned, investors are less than enthusiastic.
Recent advances in adult stem cells, an investment banker told The Scientist,
such as Shinya Yamanaka’s induced pluripotent stem cells, have pointed investors
in a different direction. "We’ve had advances in adult stem cells and [FDA]
approvals. Where do you think Wall Street money is going to go?" he asked. ~ Boston
Globe, July 17
; The
Scientist, July 23