Washington Editor

Geron Corp. raised $60 million through the sale of 5 million common shares priced at $12 each.

Expected to close Nov. 3, the offering is from a shelf registration effective Feb. 14.

Thomas Okarma, president and CEO of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Geron, told BioWorld Today the company is in a SEC-imposed quiet period and couldn't openly comment on the offering. However, he said proceeds would be used for product development, funding of clinical trials and manufacturing scale up.

UBS Securities LLC, of New York, is the sole book-running manager. SG Cowen Securities Corp., Lazard Freres & Co. LLC and Needham & Co. Inc. are acting as co-managers. Geron granted underwriters an option to purchase an additional 750,000 shares within 30 days to cover overallotments. Following the offering, Geron will have about 38.4 million shares outstanding.

In the last year or so, Geron has cut its staff twice in an effort to focus more intently on its cancer products and stem cell programs. (See BioWorld Today June 26, 2002, and Jan. 23, 2003.)

The first round of cuts eliminated 30 percent of the work force, or 33 researchers and 10 support staffers. In January, an additional 29 researchers and their support staff of 11 were released. Today Geron employs about 51 people in Menlo Park and about 27 scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Geron bought in 1999 Scotland-based Roslin Bio-Med, a company formed by the Roslin Institute, in a stock swap valued at $26 million. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 1999.)

Geron is developing cancer therapies based on telomerase inhibitors, telomerase therapeutic vaccines and oncolytic viruses, and diagnostics based on telomerase detection. Geron's most advanced therapeutic program is a telomerase therapeutic vaccine being evaluated in a Phase I/II study in patients with metastatic prostate cancer. In parallel, the company said it is developing compounds that treat cancer by directly inhibiting telomerase at its active site. Two compounds in that area, GRN163 and GRN163L, are in preclinical animal toxicology and efficacy studies.

Geron also is developing cell-based therapeutics for several diseases based on differentiated cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, including neural cells for spinal cord injury and Parkinson's disease, cardiomyocytes for heart disease, pancreatic islet B cells for diabetes, osteoblasts for osteoporosis, chondrocytes for osteoarthritis, and hematopoietic cells for blood diseases and to prevent immune rejection of other cell types, the company said in its prospectus.

Geron's stock (NASDAQ:GERN) dropped 18 cents Wednesday to close at $12.90.