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NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of Geron Corp. plunged 50 percent on Monday morning after the company announced two setbacks for its experimental cancer drug imetelstat, saying it has ended one study of the treatment and does not expect the drug to succeed in a second.
THE SPARK: Geron said it ended a mid-stage trial of imetelstat as a treatment for breast cancer because women who were treated with the drug were not doing as well as those who were treated with only a standard chemotherapy drug. The company said women who were treated with imetelstat and paclitaxel had a shorter time to death or disease progression than patients who received only paclitaxel.
Women treated with imetelstat and paclitaxel had median survival of 6.2 months before death or disease progression, compared to 8 months for the women who were treated with just paclitaxel. Geron said 16 of the patients who were treated with imetelstat in the breast cancer study died, compared to 10 of the paclitaxel patients. It said the difference was not statistically significant.
Geron said the women in the imetelstat group sometimes had their paclitaxel doses reduced, and it believes that is responsible for the difference in the results. The company was running a mid-stage clinical trial on 166 patients.
The Menlo Park, Calif., company also said it will complete a mid-stage trial of imetelstat as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, but it does not think the drug will meet the goals of the study and does not plan to move imetelstat into late-stage testing as a treatment for that type of cancer.
THE BIG PICTURE: Geron did not say if it is planning another mid-stage trial of imetelstat as a treatment for breast cancer. Geron said it did not find any evidence that the drug increased the risk of disease progression in breast cancer patients or lung cancer patients. The company is also studying imetelstat as a treatment for two types of blood cancer. It expects to release results from those trials in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Geron is also studying a drug called GRN1005 that is designed to deliver paclitaxel to the brain so it can work on brain tumors.
The company pioneered the development of embryonic stem cell therapies and ran the first human trials of treatments based on embryonic stem cells. However in 2011 the company ended a trial of a stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries and said it would focus on its cancer drugs.
SHARE ACTION: Geron stock lost $1.57, or 54.2 percent, to $1.33 in morning trading. The stock had more than doubled in value from early June to September as Wall Street waited for the company to report data from several trials of imetelstat and GRN1005. Its 52-week low was $1.25 per share in June.