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Monday, September 28, 2009

The true status of the cell therapy industry...

I apologize for the quality of this image but hopefully its just clear enough for you to make out this week's Genetic Engineering News poll. If you're reading this in realtime you will see on GEN's homepage.

In case you can't read it, the poll is this:

"Which type of stem cells will be the first to move from the laboratory into clinical testing?
  • embryonic stem cells
  • induced pluripotent stem cells
  • adult stem cells
  • none of the above
  • undecided"
The introduction to the poll is as follows:

"The 2009 Lasker Awards honored two scientists who developed nuclear reprogramming, a process that instructs specialized adult cells to form pluripotent stem cells. This has been widely hailed in the life science research community and the biotech/biopharma industry as one of the most significant findings of the past decade. While embryonic stem cell research has been plagued by ethical concerns, some believe that the newfound ability to induce pluripotency in adult stem cells will lead to breakthroughs in the therapeutic applications of stem cells. So we want to know which type of stem cells you think will win the race."

C'mon GEN, are you serious? If you honestly missed the point that adult stem cells are already in clinical testing and use, then shame on you. If you're trying to catch people in their own ignorance by this trick question then I suppose that's a little more tolerable but a poll like this still perpetuates the misinformation - at least until you do everything you can to expose it.

This kind of misunderstanding about the true status of the development of cell therapies is pervasive. Late last year I commented on an article by Tom Feilden on BBC's website in which he said things like,
  • "...a sizeable number of exciting stem cell projects are now reaching the stage where they should be moving on from the research lab and into clinical trials" and
  • "Regenerative medicine may finally be moving out of the lab and into the clinic."
As we all know, stem cell research moved from the lab into clinical use decades ago (with stem cell transplantation) and there are now literally hundreds of clinical trials currently underway testing the use of different kinds of stem cell products for almost every imaginable condition not the least of which is Osiris' Prochymal which has been tested now in two phase III clinical trials.

Perhaps the educated readers of this blog will think that it is not possible that readers of GEN could believe that adult stem cells are not already in clinical testing. Let me assure you there is a lot of misinformation about the maturity of the cell therapy sector even among those in biotechnology. As proof, a click on "View Results" shows that as of today the poll stands almost neck-and-neck. A mere 48.6% of respondents believe adult stem cells will beat ESC or iPS cells to clinical testing. 45.7% believe either ESC or iPS cells will beat adult stem cells into clinical trial.

What more can I say? We - you and I - must continue to do everything we can to raise awareness about the true status of the cell therapy industry and the products we are developing - even among our biotech colleagues.


p.s. I know my Cell Therapy Industry HiLites has disappeared this summer. I'm doing everything I can do resurrect it from among the rubble left by summer holidays, home renos, new baby, and more work from clients than I could have ever expected.


Frog said...


This kinda of a "Poll" in a respected Scientific Publication (albeit commercial)is pathetic.

Thanks for pointing this out. I have been notably missing from the blogoshpere myself, having picked up some contract work that is keeping me busy. Expect a link to my blog post soon. Sorry I missed you when you were in DC.

Jim H FredCoBio

Stem Cell Blog said...


Leeza Rodriguez said...

hello Lee,

Thanks for posting the survey.

After seeing the clinical results presented at the ICMS conference in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, my vote is with adult stem cells. And we'll go a step further and say that our own unwanted adipose fat is going to lead the revolution.

Who would have thought that plastic surgeons would be great contributors to mankind? :-)

Leeza Rodriguez

Mary Ann Daffidils said...

Stem cell therapy is set to become a major part of ATS, cancer, hearing loss treatments and of course plastic surgery. The need is however, is to ensure that these are stored in perfect condition before actually getting transplanted to the receiver’s body. This has made the industry of 'controlled rate freezers' to grow at a fast pace to keep up with the demand. I am doing a paper on ‘The Uses of Stem Cell Therapy and the Techniques of Storing Them’ and found your post valuable.

Christopher said...

Hi lee

It amuses me that anyone can think iPS could get the to the clinic before hESC since they have the same issues (you are creating a stem cell after all)and more - how can you show that the method you used to manipulate the cell into an iPS did not lead to other unwanted effects? As a regulatory scientist I see iPS as a bigger minefield than hESC. However, I'm not really up to date enough with iPS science, but I doubt we are in a position to realiably and reproducibly create iPS yet, let alone reliably and reproducibly differentiate them into something useful (needed for hESC too).
Furthermore, both arguements conveniently ignore immunology in the drive towards a biotech business model of stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap.
In the absence of the ability to see the future we must continue to pursue all avenues. If I was to make a guess I'd say history tells us there will be a niche for all approaches.