Monday, September 12, 2016

California's Randy Mills: Flood of Demand for Stem Cell Therapies Requires New Development Pathways

The president of the $3 billion California stem cell agency today told federal regulators that patient demand is "very real" for stem cell therapies and called for "alternative" pathways for development.

Randy Mills at FDA hearing
Randy Mills said patients are "really suffering and their needs are not being met." He said the demand is like a flood of water and will find its way around any blockages that rise up.

Mills spoke during the first day of a two-day hearing by the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) into possible new regulation of the stem cell field.

The session came as the Washington Post published online a lengthy piece about unregulated stem cell therapies and the increasing scrutiny they are facing from regulators. Reporter Laurie McGinley wrote about a clinic in Beverly Hills with a self-described "Time Machine" box.

Mark Berman, who was described as the co-founder of the "biggest network of commercial stem cell clinics" in the country, processes stems cell through the box for a procedure that he says doesn't require FDA approval.

McGinley wrote,
"In mini-liposuction procedures, Berman extracts fat tissue from patients and puts it into the Time Machine box, where a centrifuge separates stem cells from fat. The cells are then injected back into the patients to supposedly treat a variety of health problems, such as arthritic knees, heart disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and even autism."
The treatments run about $8,900 each. Berman said his network has treated about 5,000 persons, McGinley reported.

The Post piece said that such treatments and their regulation or lack of regulation has "ignited a fierce debate among physicians, patients, scientists and politicians about whether the (FDA) should crack down on therapies that critics deride as snake oil but that some patients swear by. And it is fueling a broader, longer-term debate over how cellular therapies should be regulated."

Stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler of UC Davis , who is quoted in the Washington Post article, took in today's FDA hearing from his lab in California. Writing on his blog, he delivered some "take-homes" after the session concluded. Here are a few excerpts from what Knoepfler wrote.
  • "Some speakers advocated for a 'middle ground' between 'nothing' in the way of regulation for instance of the dubious clinics and the perceived 'mountainous' extreme of the current FDA oversight system. The middle ground was, for example, argued for by Janet Marchibroda of the BPC and then also in the next talk by CIRM President Randy Mills. Mills, who is a very powerful speaker, argued that there is a harmful binary system now and we need a middle ground between the extremes of little-to-no regulation and the current in his view constricted pathway."
  • "Several speakers invoked patient autonomy and patient rights, and argued that they are doing what they are doing as practitioners of stem cell therapies simply for the betterment of patients. There’s the pesky problem there with this argument of probably millions of dollars in profit being made from the patients by some clinics though. If it’s all about patients, I challenge the clinics to do the transplants strictly 'at cost' with no profit margin."
  • "Many parties asked the FDA for more clarity and consistency on oversight. Also, a number of speakers asked for concrete, real world examples of how definitions would apply.  I’ve been pushing the FDA for increased clarity for years including lay abstract summaries of their main guidelines and statements of current thinking. I really like the idea of flowcharts."

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