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FDA sends a Happy New Year greeting to another stem cell operation!

FDA sends a Happy New Year greeting to another stem cell operation!

As a prelude to more of what may be coming this year, the FDA has issued its first warning letter to a for-profit stem cell entity, on the third working day of the New Year. As per previous posts, expect more to follow in the coming weeks and months, targeting the most visible stem cell only entities.

Here is the warning letter:

https://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm591225.htm

Same ol, same ol, but with a twist

The letter is largely the FDA’s standard form warning letters to stem cell operations, but not quite. This entity, based in New Jersey, produces SVF (stromal vascular fractions) from adipose tissue, which is what most of these places do. That product is considered “more than minimally manipulated” under the FDA’s final guidance document. The business also apparently claims that its product may treat a wide variety of diseases, which makes the use “non-homologous,” under the aforesaid guidance document.

The letter also makes noises about a “biologics license.” Places like this New Jersey entity have more of a chance of seeing a unicorn than they do in obtaining a biological license.

And like two prior warning letters, this warning letter finds cGMP noncompliance, including not having a (very expensive) clean room, and well as numerous other facility, hardware, systems and documentation deficiencies involved in commercially producing drugs.

The rub/twist in this case

Based on the warning letter, it appears that this entity doesn’t actually treat patients, but rather just manufactures the product for resale/injection by health care providers.

The other rubs is that there is an IRB (Institutional Review Board) involved and, according to the warning letter, the product is listed “for research use only.” The FDA didn’t think either of these things helped the company’s case and made the product legal.

Just to recap the regulatory process

First, the FDA shows up for an inspections, usually unannounced and with at least three FDA inspectors. They stay for at least a week demanding to see documents. The last day of the inspection, the company is handed a 483 inspection report, which is the agency’s preliminary and non-binding and non-exhaustive findings/”observations.” (In these FDA stem cell inspections, I have to believe the agents have a standard form or template, since all of these entities have the same basic operation and operational deficiencies).

The company is given a short time to respond in writing to the noted 483 deficiencies. The FDA then reviews the response. The FDA is never satisfied with the response (at least in for- profit stem cell entities), so 3-6 months later, a warning letter arrives in the mail, usually after it is posted on the FDA warning letter web page
The company has another short period (15 working days) to respond to the warning letter. Most of the time, and especially if the entities respond without counsel, they just repeat their response to the 483 observations. The FDA then considers the response, and then . . . .?

What’s next?

This is the third warning letter issued against stem cell entities since late summer. (See my earlier post on the prior two warning letters:

http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/09/22/sleeping-giant-awakens-fda-starts-final-push-eliminate-practice-medicine-stem-cell-clinics/

So far, the FDA hasn’t taken the next step which would be a civil injunction action to stop the stem cell providers for administering and manufacturing their products. But dollars to donuts, the civil actions are coming. I suspect they will be (or the two summer warning letter at least) will be filed about the same time, so as to maximize the PR/threat impact.

The FDA’s choice of the three initial targets is interesting and possibly informative

The Florida stem cell clinic involves the most egregious facts. A nurse practitioner injected stem cell products into patients’ eyeballs and caused permanent vision damage, and the operation is run by someone without any actual health care background or training. This should be an easy case for the FDA, on the merits and more importantly, it and won’t cause public outrage even from the pro stem cell clinic field because of the bad facts. As I’ve said before, this is the best initial target, from the FDA and stem cell Mafioso’s point to view.

The California clinic supposedly uses some illegal or non FDA approved toxin either in or in the processing of its HCT/P’s. That’s about as good as you can get from the FDA’s point of view in terms of trying to solidify the FDA’s position on “more than minimal manipulation.” It’s going to be very hard for a federal judge to go for the stem cell advocate’s view if a clinic is using dangerous toxins in its product.

The New Jersey case is interesting and useful to the FDA because it targets an HCT/P manufacturer. This an important part of the FDA strategy because there are many, many docs out there using HCT/P’s who are buying the product from manufacturers like this New Jersey company. With this warning letter, the FDA is telling all these manufacturers that it hasn’t forgotten about them.

We’ll have to see how it all shakes out, but I’m still predicting that multiple injunction actions will be filed by the FDA in 2018, and I’ll bet sooner rather than later.

I still feel that the defense is going to be part legal and part public/legislative, and there’s probably still some arguments to be made which might be more receptive to the courts than to the FDA, but we’ll see.

Rick Jaffe, Esq.
Rickjaffeesquire@gmail.com
www.rickjaffe.com

The year in review and some predictions about next year/ Part One: Stem Cells

The year in review and some predictions about next year/ Part One: Stem Cells

It’s time to look back at what happened this year, and make some predictions about next year. Part One will focus on stem cells.

We started 2017 awaiting the FDA’s final guidance documents on HCT/P’s (“stem cells”). In late August, the FDA foreshadowed the guidance documents by issuing warning letters to two of most high profile (or infamous) stem cell clinics in the country. Both clinics were warned that their use of HCT/P’s were in violation of the FDA trifecta (unapproved new drug, misbranding and adulteration), and that their facilities were not in compliance with applicable good tissue and manufacturing practices.
Here is my post about it:

http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/09/22/sleeping-giant-awakens-fda-starts-final-push-eliminate-practice-medicine-stem-cell-clinics/

Within two months of the warning letters, the FDA published the final guidance documents. They were at least as bad (from the perspective of these clinics and the patients which seek out non-FDA approved stem cell treatments) as the draft guidance documents.

See my prior post analyzing the final guidance document:

http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/11/17/big-surprise-fdas-final-stem-cell-guidelines-threaten-existence-stem-cell-clinics/

On the other hand, two states passed stem cell legislation. California passed a meaningless law aimed at providing informed consent to patients.

See my post at:

http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/10/05/california-enacts-new-stem-cell-law-wont-change-anything/

Texas passed a stem cell law which could allow patients to use both autologous and allogenic stems cells therapeutically (or in FDA parlance, “non-homologously”).

The law won’t open-up the floodgates because of the relatively high barriers to entry (i.e., the cost of an ambulatory surgical center, and the big-time IRB requirements), but as I’ve said, as long as the Texas Medical Board doesn’t mess it up, Texas could become the Mecca for the therapeutic use of stem cells.

here is my post about it:

http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/05/31/landmark-texas-stem-cell-legislation-gets-through-the-texas-legislature/

And yes, Congress did pass some legislation involving stem cells, but it just deals with supposedly faster approval. It won’t cause a single patient to receive stem cell treatments in 2018, or so is my prediction. The bill was just a tactic to get stem cell advocates off of Congress folks’ back.

Finally, last week, a civil lawsuit was filed against the Florida clinic which has become the poster child of the “greedy and evil” for-profit, heretofore unregulated stem cell industry. These are the folks that had a nurse practitioner inject HCT P’s in the eyeballs of patients and allegedly caused blindness or reduced vision. That’s bad news for them and all of the stem cell clinics in the intermediate term. It’s going to take a while for the case to reach any meaningful result. But the institutional stem cell Mafioso will surely keep banging the drums about this case to keep the pressure on the FDA to do more.

What’s going to happen in 2018 in the stem cell field?

For sure, the FDA will try to pick-off a few more clinics by starting the process of inspections, issuing 486 field reports, and then following-up with warning letters. I expect to see one or more of the recipients of these warning letters to be involved in litigation with the FDA. However I don’t expect any court rulings until at least mid to late 2018. As I said before, if the first case decided involves the Florida clinic involved in eyeball injections, the stem cell field won’t like the result.

Are private stem cell clinics going to disappear from the US in 2018?

Absolutely not! If anything I think 2018 will bring more options to patients in terms of use of their own stem cells and even umbilical cord stem cells and other HCT/P’s.

You might ask how I can possibly think this in light of the final guidance documents and the FDA’s recent warning letters?

I think the delivery of these new therapies is going underground. My read is that more and more physicians are quietly using HCT/P’s in their practice. Therefore, I think that in 2018 and beyond, more people will have access to these treatments, but not necessarily through the large, high profile stem cell only clinics, because some of them will be mired in legal battles with the FDA.

Won’t the FDA shut all of these stem cell docs down?

I don’t think so because the FDA doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure to eliminate the clinical use of stem cells.

More in the weeds: more doctors are using stem cells in their clinical practice. The FDA isn’t equipped to go after all of these practitioners, because its structure, resources and operations are geared towards drugs, not the practice of medicine. (And the practice of medicine just happens to be the best defense these docs have, albeit, not recognized by the one case in which it was raised, but more about that another time).

Equally important, patient demand is too great, and more and more physicians are seeing the dramatic benefits of these treatments.

I predict that many more docs will start using stem cells because of these two factors, and FDA be dammed. Ultimately, I predict that the popularity and the anecdotal evidence of success will prevail over the FDA and the stem cell Mafioso. So while the FDA may pick-off a few of the large, high profile or infamous clinics, I think there will be as good, if not better access to these innovative treatments in 2018. That is my prediction and hope.

Richard Jaffe, Esq.
Rickjaffeesquire@gmail.com
www.rickjaffeesquire.com