Clone Profit? Unlikely: The Technology's Commercial Viability Faces Many Hurdles

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Forty Nobel laureates and patient-advocacy groups have lobbied senators to allow human cloning for medical research.

Thomas Okarma, too, has met with senators to advocate cloning, but not because he sees any business potential in it. As chief executive of Geron Corp., a cell therapy company, he has no interest in using cloned embryos to produce customized treatments for disease. The odds favoring success "are vanishingly small," he said, and the costs are daunting.

Okarma said it would take "thousands of [human] eggs on an assembly line" to produce a custom therapy for a single person. "The process is a nonstarter, commercially," he said.

The battle over a government ban on human cloning soon will reach the Senate floor. Advocates of a limited ban argue cloning research is needed to develop tailored stem cell treatments for Parkinson's, diabetes and other debilitating diseases.

Lost in the debate is the limited commercial promise of therapeutic cloning. Few companies believe it will produce affordable medications. The economic and regulatory hurdles are high, and the likely fallout is even more controversy.

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