Monday, August 15, 2016

Odds for a Stem Cell Cure vs. Odds on Trump Winning the Election

The article explored one particular search for a cure for diabetes, but the headline was bleak.
"Will Embryonic Stem Cells Ever Cure Anything?"
The question came at the top of a piece by Aleszu Bajak in the Aug. 12, 2016, edition of the MIT Technology Review. 

Bajak quoted Doug Melton of Harvard as saying,
“The public definitely doesn’t appreciate that much of science is failure.”
Bajak, a veteran science writer and journalism instructor, continued with his own conclusion, 
"In fact, no field of biotechnology has promised more and delivered less in the way of treatments than embryonic stem cells." 
Hard, hard language that probably disturbs many in the field, including some at the California stem cell agency, which was founded on the promise of therapies from human embryonic stem cells(hESC). The agency has committed more than $2 billion to stem cell research since 2005 and is still looking for its first big score.

One can argue the fairness of the conclusion by Bajak, but it certainly seems tied to the excessive rhetoric that has surrounded the hESC field, particularly the $34 million ballot campaign that created the $3 billion state stem cell agency in 2004.

The rhetoric of the campaign came with a price. The agency is scheduled to run out of cash for new grants in 2020. Whether it can deliver on the campaign promises of 2004 will in large part determine whether it can conjure up additional funding.

The likeliest prospects for success today can be found in the list of clinical trials the agency is helping to fund and the scores of additional trials that it plans to assist in the next several years. They include efforts to deal with afflictions ranging from heart disease to diabetes.

By one widely cited measure, only one out of 10 conventional therapies entering clinical trials reaches the market place. Those are slim odds, ones that do not involve novel stem cell efforts, which are presumably more difficult. To put it another way, Donald Trump has better chances -- as of this writing -- of being elected president than of a clinical trial producing a stem cell cure.

Trump, however, is only going to have one chance. The California stem cell agency is expecting to take more than 50 shots at a therapy via its involvement in clinical trials over the next several years.

Nonetheless, it is a risky business, as venture capitalist Gregory Bonfiglio, pointed out to the California Stem Cell Report last December.  He said,
“There are risks inherent in the development of new, disruptive technology. The bigger risk is failing to deliver on their underlying promise to bring new regenerative therapies to patients…. The bigger risk is not doing anything.”
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