Thursday, August 01, 2019

Unregulated Stem Cell Treatments Targeted by California Medical Board; Hearing Next Week

"Snake oil" stem cell clinics in California and their physician operators are on the agenda next week of state medical regulators as deep concerns are being raised in Congress about the slow pace of federal action against the enterprises. 

Last week, a bipartisan group of leaders of a U.S. House of Representatives committee told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a letter, 
"We appreciate the actions taken by FDA, but this pattern of unsafe and unproven therapies remains deeply concerning. Such treatments not only pose public health risks for patients, but also harm the future promise held by the development of stem cell therapy as a field."
California also has been slow in dealing with the issue. State legislation to deal with the matter has been shunted aside.  More than a year ago, the state's Medical Board created a task force to deal with the issue. The panel did not hold its first meeting until June 27 of this year and then with no public notice. 

Experts who follow growth of the dubious clinics say more than 1,000 exist in the United States. The largest number are in California. The treatments are unproven and cost desperate patients thousands of dollars. The clinics have been linked with several cases of blindness and at least 12 serious infections. The FDA has filed lawsuits against two, including one in California, and sent 45 letters to clinics involving their practices. 

The agenda for next week's state medical board meeting says only that an "update" will be delivered by the task force which consists of two members of the board, Randy Hawkins and  and Howard Krauss. No action was specifically listed for the agenda item (No. 21), but the board couches its agenda in such fashion that it could legally act on any matter before it. 

The Congressional letter to the FDA not only expressed serious concern about the proliferation of unproven therapies,  but also said, 
"The advertising strategies some of these clinics employ to attract some of the most vulnerable patients are particularly alarming. Some have advertised stem cell treatments to desperate patients with the most serious untreated illnesses, such as spinal injuries, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Some clinics have misled patients into believing that the therapies they offer are FDA approved or that they are being offered as part of an FDA sanctioned clinical trial."
The chairman of the board of California's $3 billion stem cell agency, Jonathan Thomas, has called the treatments "snake oil." The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), is running out of cash. It is worried that a move to refinance the agency via a ballot measure next year could be harmed by voter confusion about the stem cell research.

The congressional letter said,
"When providers offer harmful, unproven stem cell therapies outside of the clinical setting, they create confusion among patients and undermine public confidence in treatments that have been proven to be safe and effective through well-designed clinical trials. If we are to realize the potential clinical benefits of stem cell therapies, it is crucial that developers focus their efforts on the use of traditional developmental pathways that yield definitive results rather than promoting products with 'dubious clinical efficacy and possible risks.'"
Next week's meeting is open to the public. Letters to the board can be emailed to executive director, Kimberly Kirchmeyer, at

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