Sunday, December 09, 2018

California Setting Stage for Crackdown on Dubious Stem Cell Clinics

The California stem cell agency, state regulators and lawmakers are taking aim at the hundreds of dubious, unregulated "stem cell" clinics now operating in the Golden State.

The goal is to regulate clinics that are using what they describe as stem cells in treatments costing thousands of dollars but that have not been tested  scientifically. Lawsuits have been filed around the country alleging damage to patients that includes blindness.

Art Torres, vice chairman of the state stem cell agency, is working with lawmakers to formulate legislation that is expected to be introduced by the end of January.

The State Medical Board, which licenses and regulates physicians, has created a task force to look into the the growing business.

Earlier this fall, Torres told the governing board of
Kevin Mullin, LA Times photo
the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, that he was engaged with Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, on a bill.

Torres, a former state lawmaker, said the legislation is expected to involve certification of clinics by a state department. He said, 
"It involves a number of issues which we (CIRM) really can't be involved with in terms of licensing, but we certainly can be involved with the parameters and the distinctions that we ought to raise as to what constitutes an appropriate stem cell clinic in California."
At the same time, the state's Medical Board is examining the promotional practices and harm caused by the clinics. It is also looking at possible regulations to curb abuses.  

"There is reasonable concern about a growing number of providers and clinics in the United States that are undermining the field. Such providers and clinics have been known to apply, prescribe or recommend therapies inappropriately, over-promise without sufficient data to support claims, and exploit patients who are often in desperate circumstances and willing to try any proposed therapy as a last resort, even if there is excessive cost or scant evidence of efficacy."
Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis stem cell scientist who has long been involved in examination of dubious clinics, has reported that at least 100 such clinics exist in California. 

Writing on his blog Nov. 30, Knoepfler said,
"Broadly, it may be going rapidly from the best of times to the worst of times for unproven stem cell clinics in the U.S., which would be a very good thing for patients and the stem cell field, if it actually happens. We’ll see."
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 07, 2018

Former Biotech Maven Steve Burrill Sentenced to Prison

Famed and legendary he was called. Now he is facing 2.5 years in prison.

Steve Burrill, wn.com photo
He is Steve Burrill, who once was a featured life science maven/financier/visionary at international conferences such as BIO, which attracts upwards of 16,000 persons annually. Burrill also conducted a well-attended stem cell conference in San Francisco that showcased California's stem cell agency shortly after it came into existence.

Burrill, who was based out of San Francisco, was sentenced this week for defrauding investors and falsifying his tax returns. He pled guilty to siphoning off $18 million from his companies.

Here are links to the news stories on the case: GEN News, STAT, Xconomy. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 06, 2018

California Stem Cell Agency Slated to Award $6.2 Million to Fight Lymphoma

California's $3 billion stem cell agency, which turned 14 last month, is expected next Thursday to give away another $6.2 million as it continues its efforts to fulfill the expectations of the voters who created it in 2004.

Also possibly on tap is an update on the status of efforts to raise privately some $200 million to tide over the agency as it looks forward to 2020 and a possible ballot measure to provide it with another $5 billion.

Known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency expects to run out of cash for new awards in about 12 months. Its award budget for 2019 now stands at $144 million. Presumably, another $28.4 million can be added, which is the uncommitted cash for research left over from this year. 

The agency subsists on state bond funds approved by voters. Its bond issuance authority, however, is expiring. No other source of funding was provided by voters, and the agency has no expectations of being financed on annual basis by the legislature.

The 2004 ballot campaign that created the first-ever such agency in California history raised high hopes a stem cell therapy was right around the corner. CIRM has not yet backed a treatment that is available for widespread use. However, it is helping to fund 49 clinical trials, the last steps before a treatment is approved for the marketplace.

The application (CLIN2-11371) before the board next week has already been approved by the agency's reviewers. Normal practice is for the board to ratify in public earlier decisions made in private by reviewers.

The name of the recipient has been withheld by the agency until after ratification, as is the agency's standard practice. The proposal seeks to continue a phase one clinical trial  to help treat lymphoma.

The CIRM summary of the review of the application said the goal of the research is to "ameliorate or accelerate recovery from toxicities related to high-dose chemotherapy followed by HDT-ASCT for the treatment of lymphoma and other cancers."

CIRM said the method would involve "genetically engineered CD31+ cells derived from human umbilical vein tissue (engineered HUVEC)."
"There are currently only a few moderately effective treatments available to reduce the toxic side effects associated with aggressive cancer treatments – hence a high unmet medical need. New approaches are urgently needed to both improve quality of life and reduce the risks of high dose therapy."
The summary said that the $6.2 million award would be backed by $2.7 million from the recipient.

CIRM Chaiman Jonathan Thomas has been working to raise the private funds to help support the agency beyond next year. He often reports on his progress at board meetings.

The CIRM board meeting will be based in Oakland. Offsite locations where the public can participate are located in Stanford and San Francisco. The public can also log in online and ask questions or make comments. Instructions on how to participate are contained on the meeting agenda. If you are not familiar with the procedure, it is useful to log in about 10 minutes prior to the meeting's start (10 a.m. PST)  to avoid technical difficulties. Sphere: Related Content