business

Osiris Rises on Heart-Treatment News

Investors bought the shares Monday after the company's stem cell treatment produced positive results in a clinical trial

When Osiris Therapeutics (OSIR) announced encouraging results from its effort to help the hundreds of thousands who die each year because their scarred hearts can no longer pump blood efficiently, investors bid up the Baltimore stem cell therapeutic company's stock on March 26.

After a massive heart attack, the body replaces dead muscle cells and blood vessels with tougher tissue. But over time, the heart's walls can grow thin and floppy as a result. The heart can't pump bodily fluid properly and sufferers feel short of breath. Researchers have been trying to figure out ways solve this problem by building new heart muscle with the use of stem cells (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/11/05, "Stem Cells, Minus the Furor").

Toward that end, Osiris Therapeutics compared placebos with the effect of an adult stem cell therapy called Provacel on 53 heart attack patients. Patients tolerated all dose levels; there were no deaths and no observed toxicity. The people on Provacel were four times less likely to experience irregular heartbeats compared to those receiving a placebo. And 42% of the Provacel patients experienced improvement in their overall condition after six months compared to only 11% on the placebo.

"We are extremely enthusiastic and encouraged by the degree to which these results indicate that MSCs are not only safe, but also appear to clinically improve patients who have suffered a heart attack," said the researcher Dr. Joshua Hare, who is the Lemberg Professor of Medicine at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, in a press release Sunday March 25.

Investors bid up Osiris Therapeutics stock by 13.6% to $20.33 per share in early trading on the Nasdaq on March 26.

"The magnitude of the across-the-board improvement was surprising. These data further validate the broad clinical applicability of our stem cell technology," Osiris CEO C. Randal Mills said in the press release.

Politicians have been battling over stem cell research since 1998, when U.S. scientists first created the long-lived cultures of cells that can become many different parts of the body. Researchers believe it should be possible to transform these cells into the insulin-producing tissue that is lost in diabetes, or the dopamine-making neurons dissipated in Parkinson's disease, thus curing those illnesses -- and dozens of others.

But one method of creating stem-cell lines involves destroying embryos, sparking outrage among foes to abortion (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/17/06, "The Stem Cell Wars: A Partial Victory"). President George W. Bush in July vetoed H.R. 810, a provision to spend federal money on human embryonic stem cell research. He said in a statement that "as science brings us ever closer to unlocking the secrets of human biology, it also offers temptations to manipulate human life and violate human dignity."

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