Profit Motive Behind Stem Cell Therapy Questioned

Apex Biologix is a Utah company that supplies doctors and clinics with the equipment they need to perform outpatient platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapies. Their sister organization, the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), trains doctors in how to safely and properly perform the procedures. Both are for-profit organizations.

Should Apex Biologix and the ARMI be allowed to continue making a profit in regenerative medicine? According to a group of ethicists based in Houston, they should not. The ethicists recently published a paper calling for civil litigation against for-profit stem cell providers in hopes of shutting them down. They believe there is no place for profit in this emerging field of medicine, at least not until the FDA begins approving procedures.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the group of ethicists hail from the Baylor College of Medicine. Though the group is small – it is comprised of just four members – the platform they have is a powerful one. They are using that platform to encourage people who believe they have been harmed by stem cell therapy to pursue litigation.

Calling Attention to the Harm

The ethicists’ paper talks extensively about the potential harm unregulated stem cell procedures can cause. Very few legitimate practitioners would argue that point. But when such objections to stem cell therapy are raised, those who object rarely make mention of the majority of cases in which stem cell and PRP therapies have proved successful.

It is important to note one other thing critics don’t like to talk about: there is no medical treatment that is 100% risk-free. Cancer treatments can kill patients faster than the disease itself. Open heart surgery can easily lead to death on the operating table. Even patients undergoing knee or hip replacements due to osteoarthritis run the risk of dangerous complications that could mean lifelong physical damage.

It is a good thing to raise awareness of the potential harm of some stem cell treatments. Indeed, there are plenty of treatments being offered that probably should be taken off the table for now. But to deride stem cell therapy in the way so many do would never be tolerated if the target were cancer treatments or knee and hip replacements.

Removing Profit Is Not the Answer

Civil litigation may be appropriate in individual cases where medical malpractice results in harm to patients. But endorsing civil litigation as a way to take the profit motive out of regenerative medicine is not the answer. It is profit that drives innovation; it is profit that motivates research and development; it is profit that has created the best healthcare system in the world.

Critics of stem cell therapy are especially concerned about Texas thanks to a 2017 law making it easier to utilize regenerative medicine for treating people with chronic illness. Yet critics are looking beyond the Lone Star State. For example, they are quick to cite the well-publicized account of the three Florida women made blind by stem cell injections intended to treat macular degeneration.

The stories of those three women were also the impetus behind 2017’s announced crackdown on stem cell clinics by the FDA. And yet, when you compare the number of cases of harm against the total number of treatments offered, the statistics do not support what appears to be widespread hysteria.

If it is time to rein in the stem cell industry, it’s also time to rein in the hysteria. Suing providers to take profit out of the equation is shortsighted, destructive, and potentially harmful to a form of medicine that holds so much promise for the future.

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