Geron Corp. announced Thursday that it has received $10.7million from a second round of venture financing, and hashired a new president and chief executive officer to steer thecompany's growth from start-up to market.Geron of Menlo Park, Calif., was founded in March 1992 todiscover and develop therapeutics for age-related diseases.
The current round of financing was led by Domain Partners II,L.P. and Biotechnology Investments Ltd. Other participants inthis round included Geron's initial investors: Kleiner PerkinsCaufield and Byers, Venrock Associates, CW Group, OxfordVenture Partners, Aetna and MVP Partners. Last March, thesefirms contributed $7.5 million to the fledgling company, alongwith an acting president and chief executive officer, AlexanderBarkas, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Ronald Eastman has now taken the reins from Barkas. Eastmanhas joined Geron from American Cyanamid, where he was thevice president and general manager of Lederle Laboratories.According to Eastman, the proceeds from the new venturefinancing will go to fund the company's expansion and tosupport research and development of new therapeutics thataddress the fundamental mechanisms of aging, includingchanges in gene expression and hormonal levels.
Geron's lead program, however, is focused on exploitingscientific advances in telomere biology. Geron researcher CalvinHarley and his collaborators have found that telomeres -- shortstretches of highly repeated DNA sequences located at the tipsof chromosomes -- act like biological clocks; they appear tomeasure and regulate the length of individual cell life.This applies to normal cells as well as malignant ones.Apparently, the telomeres shorten in length when a cellreplicates. Under normal conditions, the telomeres getprogressively shorter over successive cell generations, until thecell finally stops dividing and begins senescing. The companyand its collaborators at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallasare exploring prototype compounds that slow this telomericshortening.
Conversely, the telomeres don't shorten at all in cancer cells,which are "immortal," explained Jeryl Hilleman, Geron's vicepresident of finance and administration. This is apparently dueto the presence of an enzyme, telomerase, which endlesslysynthesizes new telomeres that are lost. Geron is exploringtherapeutic strategies to interfere with the enzyme's activity.Screening leads that might inhibit telomerase is "...our mostimmediately tangible program," Hilleman told BioWorld.
-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor
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