By Kim Coghill
Geron Corp. Thursday entered into an equity financing agreement with Acqua Wellington North American Equities Fund Ltd. for the sale of up to $50 million of its stock during the next two years.
The financing will be made in accordance with a shelf registration Geron filed earlier with the SEC covering the sale of up to 5 million shares of common stock. At Geron's discretion, the shares may be sold at a small discount to market at the time of sale. The company will control the amount and timing of each sale of stock.
"Acqua Wellington has developed a structure that provides a company with the flexibility to raise capital efficiently when market conditions are favorable," said David Greenwood, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Geron. Acqua Wellington Asset Management LLC is an adviser to the Acqua Wellington Family of Funds, which targets investment opportunities among mid- and small-cap publicly traded companies in domestic and global markets, and has been extremely active of late in biotech investing.
Geron's stock (NASDAQ:GERN) closed unchanged Thursday at $31.06.
Money raised will be used to further fund Geron's ongoing research in three technologies, Greenwood said.
The first core technology is telomerase expression. Telomeres are structures at the ends of chromosomes that act as a molecular clock of cellular aging - when telomeres reach a critical short length, the cell stops dividing and becomes old. Telomerase is an enzyme that restores telomere length and rewinds the molecular clock, thereby extending a cell's ability to multiply or replicate.
Geron also has an interest in human pluripotent stem cells, or hPSCs. These stem cells are a potential source for the manufacture of replacement cells and tissues for applications in regenerative medicine such as chronic liver, health and nervous system diseases.
In 1998, Geron and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at Johns Hopkins University successfully derived and maintained in culture human embryonic stem cells, which are the source of every cell in the body. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 6, 1998, p. 1.)
The third technology platform is nuclear transfer, which was obtained through the acquisition of the Roslin Institute in Scotland, makers of Dolly the cloned sheep. Nuclear transfer is a method for generating human cells or whole animals from genetic material derived solely from the nucleus of a single cell obtained from a single individual.
Geron has raised $34 million this year, all of which has been directed toward general corporate purposes.
In other business Thursday, Greenwood said the European Patent Office granted the company a patent covering telomerase activity assays.
The patent, European Patent No. 0728207, includes 61 claims based on telomerase activity assays, including Geron's Telomeric Repeat Amplification Protocol (TRAP). Some of the claims cover the methods of detecting telomerase activity in cells, including cancer cells. The patent also covers kits useful for detecting telomerase activity.
The granting of the patent brings Geron's telomerase-related portfolio to 45 issued or allowed U.S. patents and 13 granted foreign patents. The company has more than 160 telomerase-related pending patent applications.