On March 8-9 in Boston, stem cell medicine biotechnology start-up Asymmetrex will take the lead in introducing a potentially controversial topic to attendees at the 6th Annual Clinical Trials Supply New England 2017 conference. Executives from contract research organizations that supply companies running FDA-approved stem cell clinical trials will be presented with the proposition of promoting advances in stem cell medicine by also supplying private clinics that offer medical treatments with adult tissue stem cells.
Recent scientific reports put the number of private clinics offering stem cell medical treatments in the U.S. at greater than 400. More than 300 of these clinics emerged since 2009. They mirror the rapid increase in FDA-approved clinical trials during the same period at a rate of about 300 new therapy-focused adult tissue stem cell trials each year. However, because of the inherently small number of patients enrolled in early clinical trials and the much larger number of patients seen in medical clinics, the number of stem cell treatments performed in private clinics dwarfs the number in clinical trials by more than 10-fold.
In both settings, treatment cell transplants per se appear generally safe, as long as proper care is given to other routine safety factors, which include mainly keeping treatments free of infectious agents and chemical contaminants and avoiding immune reactions. These safety procedures fall well within the training and expertise of physicians in private clinics, as well as in hospital-based clinical trials.
The rapid growth of private stem cell clinics has alarmed some stem cell scientists and their member organizations. The clinics are accused of making false claims, exploiting patients’ pain and distress for financial gain, and generally harming the reputation of stem cell science. In contrast, in FDA-approved clinical trials, patient volunteers are necessarily informed that their treatments are experimental, and therefore may bring them no medical benefit. Generally, trial subjects do not pay for their treatment, though often treatment costs are covered by their personal health insurance.
Asymmetrex’s founder and director, James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D., recently began a public discourse, in which he argues that in the important respects private stem cell clinics are not all that different than FDA-approved clinical trials. First, he says that glibly painting all several hundred or more private stem cell clinics as exploitive is an unsubstantiated claim itself. Generally, physicians in both settings are diligently looking for ways to improve the health of patients – clinical trial physicians in the more distant future and private clinic physicians immediately. Sherley, a physician scientist, stresses the importance of recognizing medical empiricism as an important contributor to the advance of modern medicine and medical science.
At the conference, Sherley is scheduled to lead a panel discussion on the topic on March 8 at 15:50 PM (EDT) and give a talk on March 9 at 13:30 PM (EDT). A major new position he will present is that the volume of stem cell treatments now occurring in private clinics is much too large to simply disparage and attempt to shut down. Working to improve the quality of private stem cell clinic treatments for patients and to improve their documentation towards accelerating progress in stem cell medicine is a better goal.
To attendees at this week’s Clinical Trials Supply conference, Sherley will suggest that the supply of private stem cell clinics with high quality, certified sources of stem cells is an underappreciated crucial need for advancing stem cell medicine. The companies that are able to mobilize to fill in this supply gap could have a 10-fold greater impact on advancing stem cell medicine compared to their current minimal impact in FDA-approved stem cell clinical trials.
Asymmetrex, LLC is a Massachusetts life sciences company with a focus on developing technologies to advance stem cell medicine. Asymmetrex’s founder and director, James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert on the unique properties of adult tissue stem cells. The company’s patent portfolio contains biotechnologies that solve the two main technical problems – production and quantification – that have stood in the way of successful commercialization of human adult tissue stem cells for regenerative medicine and drug development. In addition, the portfolio includes novel technologies for isolating cancer stem cells and producing induced pluripotent stem cells for disease research purposes. Currently, Asymmetrex’s focus is employing its technological advantages to develop and market facile methods for monitoring adult stem cell number and function in stem cell transplantation treatments and in pre-clinical assays for drug safety.