History

Company Beginnings

Understanding the role of telomeres and telomerase in human disease and cancer in the pursuit of innovative treatments for patients has been a vision since our founding in the 1990s.

Our name comes from the Greek word geron, which means “old man”, as a reference to the then newly discovered relationship between telomeres and cellular aging or senescence.

Our Early Research

Our early research conducted together with many academic scientists led to foundational discoveries: showing that telomerase is active in many different types of cancers, but is not found in normal tissues, and demonstrating the association between telomerase activity and indefinite proliferation of human cells. With our academic collaborators, we also cloned the catalytic and RNA template components of human telomerase.

Our singular focus today is oncology, but our core expertise in telomerase and bold scientific vision gave rise to research that included a cell therapy platform and led to the first  human clinical trial of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.

A Key Molecular Target in Oncology

Telomerase is now considered one of the key molecular targets in oncology. In the mid to late 1990s most pharmaceutical companies entered the search for small molecules that were potent inhibitors of telomerase. We signed collaborations with two pharma companies, Kyowa Hakko for Asia and Pharmacia & Upjohn for Europe, and screened millions of compounds. No company declared success, and telomerase was considered an undruggable target by most in the pharmaceutical industry.

Undeterred, our efforts continued as we investigated several novel ways to target telomerase, including oncolytic viral strategies and dendritic cell-based immunotherapy.

New Approach

By the early 2000s we turned to an alternative approach: nucleic acid chemistry. Based on phosphoramidate chemistry acquired from Lynx Therapeutics, our scientists developed a novel and proprietary oligonucleotide with a lipid tail (GRN163L) that could penetrate the cell membrane and bind with high affinity to the RNA template component of telomerase and block telomere binding, resulting in direct, competitive inhibition of telomerase enzymatic activity.

First Clinical Trial

In 2005, we initiated the first Phase 1 clinical trial of our first-in-class telomerase inhibitor, GRN163L, which later became known as imetelstat. Since telomerase is upregulated in most types of human cancers, we conducted a broad program of early phase clinical trials, including small single arm studies as well as larger multi-center randomized trials testing imetelstat as a single agent and as combination therapy with standard treatments both in solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. Over 500 patients have been enrolled and treated in Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials of imetelstat.

Data from these clinical trials led to the observation that imetelstat had potentially disease-modifying activity in hematologic myeloid malignancies, which has become our focus today.

Partnership with Janssen

With our discovery and development of imetelstat through early Phase 2, we made significant advances in targeting telomerase for the potential treatment of cancer. To further development, we believed imetelstat could benefit from additional expertise and resources from a strong partner.

Today, imetelstat is being developed in partnership with Janssen Biotech, Inc. (Janssen) under an exclusive worldwide collaboration and license agreement that we entered into in November 2014.

Imetelstat is the only telomerase inhibitor in clinical development.