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Celera, Geron R&D Alliance in Limbo After Lay Offs at Stem-Cell Firm

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NEW YORK, July 1 - The future of an R&D collaboration between Celera Genomics and stem-cell company Geron has been cast into doubt after Geron laid off roughly one-third of its staff and since both companies have refocused their research initiatives, GenomeWeb has learned.

 

"Clearly, with the cutbacks at Geron and at our company, and with the changes here and there, it's likely going to have an impact on the relationship," a Celera official said on the condition of anonymity. "We're going to sort out our future direction [with Geron] very soon."

 

The collaboration, struck in the summer of 2000, sought to use Celera's gene-discovery tools and bioinformatics chops to discover genes expressed in human pluripotent stem cells held by Geron.

 

The companies hoped that marrying their technologies, white-hot at the time, would help develop a host of small-molecule drugs, protein therapeutics, gene-therapy products, and prenatal diagnostics.

 

But as gene-database companies slowly fell out of favor on Wall Street, and as stem-cell firms found it difficult to parlay their technology into novel drugs or diagnostics, the partners separately found it necessary to change game plans.

 

In mid-June, Celera laid off 132 of its staff as it continued to shed its gene-sequencing and database clothes in favor of newer drug-discovery duds. About two weeks later Geron, based in Menlo Park, Calif., cut 43 of employees and support staff to help it trim costs and focus more intently on experimental cancer drugs.

 

However, David Greenwood, Geron's chief financial officer, insists the collaboration is alive and well. 

"It isn't amended; it's in place," he said in a recent interview. "We got out of it what we set out to do. Our next step [with Celera] is to refine the informatics and to select targets" based on their discoveries.

 

It wasn't immediately clear how many people at either company currently work on the R&D project, though Greenwood said "a small and insignificant" number of Geron researchers was laid off.

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