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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.