March 5, 2024


 A company accused of misleading the media and the public with claims of creating "ethical" embryonic stem cells was hammered by politicians, the media and bioethicists this week. Journalists who probed the credentials of Advanced Cell Technology found that its share price spiked 500% in two days in the wake of the publication of a paper in the prestigious journal Nature. The company also announced that had raised US$13.5 million from its existing investors.

The controversy prompted Robert Bazell, the chief science and health correspondent of NBC News, to write: "In the world of biotechnology, hype and hyperbole are the norms. Most companies lack products so they are constantly scrounging for money to stay in business. There is a saying in biotech that before companies have something to sell ‘news flow drives valuations’. So headlines, even if the claims prove groundless, can push up the stock price long enough — or nudge deals forward — to keep the company on life support. But even in this smelly landscape Advanced Cell Technology stands out."

The lead author of the article, Dr Robert Lanza, also appeared before a Senate subcommittee hearing where he was castigated by two politicians who strongly support embryonic stem cell research. "It’s a big black eye if scientists are making false and inaccurate representations," said one of them, Senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania. And in his blog, the editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, Glenn McGee, commented ruefully, "If there is a school to teach scientists how to screw up the pursuit of PR, ACT has the professor on retainer."