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Big Surprise: FDA’s Final Stem Cell Guidelines Threaten the Existence of Stem Cell Clinics

Big Surprise: FDA’s Final Stem Cell Guidelines Threaten the Existence of Stem Cell Clinics

As widely reported yesterday, the FDA finalized the draft guidance documents concerning stem cells, or as the FDA refers to the category broadly, HCT/P’s.

The draft guidance documents proposed a couple years ago made it very hard for what I call unregulated stem cell clinics to operate. Based on recent FDA action against a couple of these clinics (see my prior post at http://rickjaffeesq.com/2017/09/22/sleeping-giant-awakens-fda-starts-final-push-eliminate-practice-medicine-stem-cell-clinics/),the tea leaves weren’t looking good for the FDA loosening-up the rules in the final version. Well, the final documents are out and the feds didn’t (lossen them up). The final guidance documents are at least as bad as the drafts, and in one important respect, worse.

Here is the main guidance document on minimal manipulation and homologous use.
https://pactgroup.net/system/files/GD_HCTs_20171116_UCM585403.pdf

The FDA also issued a final guidance document on same day surgical procedures, but practically speaking, that one is irrelevant, based on the main guidance document. And that’s because, per many of my previous posts, the two critical concepts which determine the legality/illegality of the delivery of HCT/P’s to patients outside of clinical trials are: homologous vs. non homologous use, and more than minimally manipulation (“MMM”).

What’s a Non Homologous Use? Answer: It’s what you’re all doing!

If there is one sentence in the FDA guidance document which sums up the FDA’s position on the use of HCT/P’s by the heretofore unregulated clinics, this is it:

“If an HCT/P is intended for use as an unproven treatment for a myriad of diseases or conditions, the HCT/P is likely not intended for homologous use only.” (Page 15 of “Regulatory Considerations for Human Cell, Tissues, and Cellular and Tissue-Based Products: Minimal Manipulation and Homologous Use”, here is the link again: https://pactgroup.net/system/files/GD_HCTs_20171116_UCM585403.pdf )

To remind you, if the use is non-homologous, (meaning not the same function as from where the HCT/P derived), it’s a drug, requiring the IND/NDA path, and the non-homologous use of which is a violation of the regulation, the law which leads to bad things.

Every unregulated stem cell clinic that I am aware of falls within this FDA statement, and I wouldn’t get my hopes up based on the FDA’s “likely” qualification. If you’re using an HCT/P to cure a disease and it’s not something like hematopoietic cells or bone marrow for blood conditions, blood related cancers, or immune system issues, your use is non-homologous according the guidance documents (draft and final).

When is an HCT/P More than Minimally Manipulated? Answer: Every process used on an HCT/P unless there is scientific proof to the contrary

The nastiest thing in the final guidance document is that the FDA has created in effect an irrebuttable presumption that anytime you do anything to an HCT/P, it’s MMM unless there is information that that the process is minimal manipulation, or as the FDA puts it:

“Please note that if information does not exist to show that the processing meets the definition of minimal manipulation, FDA considers the processing of an HCT/P to be “more than minimal manipulation”, (which basically makes the HCT/P a drug)

For structural tissue like fat, MM is defined by the FDA as “processing that does not alter the original relevant characteristics of the tissue relating to the tissue’s utility for reconstruction, repair, or replacement.”

For sure, when you separate the mesenchymal stem cell (“MSC”) from the adipose substrate, that’s MMM, let alone when the MSC is further processed into something like SVF or some other derivative product.

Prior to the draft guidance documents and even under the draft guidances, you were more or less free to argue that what you were doing to the HCT/P was not changing its relevant characteristics or MMM (more than minimally manipulating it), and then presumably force the FDA to prove that you were. Under the final guidance document, if there’s no “information” that what you’re doing is MM, then it’s not.

What Kind of Information is Needed Exactly?

Frankly, I’m not sure. Part of my uncertainty is there is some fuzziness, in my mind at least, about what are the relevant characteristics, etc. It’s an FDA created concept or administrative conclusion, rather than a biological fact or physical thing like a stem cell or HCT/P. Or it’s a question of where you draws the line. So is there a new business in creating “information” that some process doesn’t alter relevant characteristics?

How broad is the Guidance Document? Answer: Broad enough to cover basically any human tissue used by the unregulated clinics.

The guidance document covers almost every conceivable human tissue except some specific things like vascularized human organs, blood and blood components as listed in the regs, secretions or extracts like milk or other bodily fluids, bone marrow not MMM and a couple other things which are not of interest to the unregulated stem cell clinics. All other human tissue is subject to the guideline and the resulting restrictions. (See footnote 3 of page 2 of the guidance document for the list of excluded products).

So is there any Good News in the Final Guidance Document? Maybe, if you’re a Super Optimist

Perhaps to lessen the sting to the unregulated stem cell clinics, (or more cynically, to give them a false sense of hope), right in the beginning of the guidance document, the FDA says that in some cases it will use its enforcement discretion, and not enforce its interpretation of the regulations for three years to give stakeholders time to decide whether they are in compliance with the law or need to go the IND/NDA route. Later in the document, the FDA lists some factors which it will use to decide who it will not go after during these three years. (See pages 21-22).

The good of it is that autologous use lowers the risk.

The really bad of it is that high on the FDA hit list is non-homologous uses for serious and life threatening diseases and where the HCT/P’s are delivered by “high risk” methods like IV, infusion and some other methods. (See page 21 paragraph V B). The FDA considers the unapproved use of HCT’s for such life threatening conditions particularly nefarious since it might delay patients receiving “safe and effective medical treatment.” That’s an unfunny joke because the main, if not the only reason people seek out HCT/P treatment is because there are no safe and effective treatment for such conditions.

So basically, if you’re using HCT/P’s for curing or mitigating diseases other than blood or immune conditions, I’d say you’re not going to be the beneficiary of the FDA’s enforcement discretion largess.

Does that mean you should expect to receive a visit or letter from the FDA in the next year or three?

Not necessarily. There are hundreds of you clinics out there. It takes a lot of man-hours (sorry, person-hours) by many line investigators and back office federales to do each investigation. The FDA’s resources are insufficient to open up investigations and engage in the process of finding violations for anywhere near the number of clinics out there.

So what’s going to happen?

The FDA will continue with the administrative process of the high profile clinics which it has recently targeted. I think it will start the investigatory process with a few other high visibility clinics, as time and person-power permits. This will reinforce the message that the FDA is out there and remind the clinics that what they are doing is illegal (according to the FDA).

It will probably take almost a year or two before there is a judicial decision on the validity or enforceability of the guidance document. A safe bet is that the FDA will bring an injunction action against one of these clinics for not, in effect, closing. Injunction cases are tried to the judge, not a jury.

If the first case involves the Florida clinic where a nurse practitioner injected eyeballs with HCT/P’s and caused blindness, well you don’t have to have a crystal ball to know the result. Like I say, bad cases make bad law.

It’s going to interesting times for the unregulated stem cell folks.

More to follow.

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

FDA Draft Stem Cell Guidance Documents Exposed as Improper Rulemaking, Bad Science and Heartless Public Policy

FDA Draft Stem Cell Guidance Documents Exposed as Improper Rulemaking, Bad Science and Heartless Public Policy

Today was a good day for people who want continued access stem cells outside of clinic trials, and also for people who want the FDA to allow faster access to this promising technology.

There was a wide spectrum of opinions. Some stem cell companies involved in clinical trials wanted the non-clinical trials clinics shut down. But at least there were representatives from some of these “unproven” clinics and interest groups who made some important points about the rights of patients and how the needs of patients are not being met by the current clinical trials model as it applies to stem cells. I heard a number like 250,000 people are not getting the stem cell treatments they need because of clogged research and regulatory hold-ups. There were numerous calls from very serious, highly credentialed people for the FDA loosen its death grip (my term) restricting access to these therapies, and the thrust of most of these presenters was that these draft guidance documents make thinks much worse.

 

The guidance document are really bad and deny access for many

And that was the big takeaway for me; that the guidelines were much, much worse than even I thought. I understood that the guidelines would make illegal the  21 CFR 1271.15 exempt same surgical procedures provided by many of the 600 plus unregulated stem cell clinics.

But what I didn’t understand until Monday’s hearing is that the FDA intends to radically change the rules so that, for example, the most popular form of breast reconstruction surgery post mastectomy (flap something) would become illegal under the new guidelines. Many other popular and widely successful procedures in other areas like orthopedics would be eliminated (outside of clinical trials). We’re not talking unboarded docs with no relevant experience who take a weekend course and starts shooting people up with stem cells. We’re talking about big-time breast reconstructive surgeons, highly regarded orthopedists and other highly skilled and specialized physicians who have successfully worked with tens of thousands of patients. If the FDA gets its way, according to these folks, Poof! These best practices transplant procedures are gone.

Fortunately, there were some very smart professionals making presentations, including an extremely knowledgeable law professor from Boston College, Mary Ann Chirba. She and several other people with regulatory expertise made the case that this whole guidance exercise was an illegitimate attempt to pass new rules without complying with the rulemaking requirements under federal law.  Works for me!

They and others honed in on the radical revisions to the two key preexisting terms/concepts used by the FDA to work its illegal magic: homologous use and more than minimal manipulation.

 

What’s a “main function?”

It was also pointed out that the guidance documents invented a new concept not existing in the statute or rule, namely the “main function” of a cell or HCT/P which is used as a way of forcing stem cell procedures from just registration under 362 into the IND/NDA drug approval path. It was argued persuasively by several regulatory experts that the creation of this new concept and its resulting transfer of many heretofore legal uses of stem cells into illegal new drug products turns the guidance documents into rulemaking without following federal administrative rulemaking procedures.

 

The FDA doesn’t understand what fat does

Another extremely cogent criticism made by a variety of people including Professor Chirba, other regulators and by both of the two top presenting stem cell researchers, Arnold Caplan and Keith March had to do with the FDA’s view of fat. According to the guidance documents, fat just has a structural function. But these presenters and especially March and Caplan showed that the FDA’s view was biologically unsound.  Fat has definite, known and extremely important non-structural uses, starting with energy storage and continuing to assistance in the healing function. The FDA’s unscientific, unsubstantiated restriction on fat allows it to find most of the important uses of fat and fat stem cells illegal as either non-homologous or as a more than minimally manipulated product. The FDA was absolutely and repeatedly pummeled on this point by my count, at least a half dozen very, smart experts.  I don’t see how even the FDA, which has a very particular agenda, is going to be able to hold on to its limitations/restrictions on fat/adipose tissue.

 

The Big Guys say regulations are holding back progress

The two big-time researchers (Caplan and March) also made the point that the regulatory climate is holding back research. Caplan said that some bone marrow pioneers had observed that if they had the regulatory environment back then as what exists today, bone marrow transplants might never have taken off. Ouch!

Interestingly, Peter Rubin, the plastic surgeon who last Thursday presented the inspiring cases of reconstruction work from fat transfers, presented again. This time he was more critical of the FDA and stated that many of the most successful reconstructive plastic surgery procedures, including breast reconstruction would become illegal under the draft guidance documents. He and many other excoriated the draft homologous document which classifies fat tissue for breast reconstruction as non-homologous because the primary purpose of the breast is lactation. Several of the female presenters had some polite but pointed words to the FDA about that.  Most of the day’s presenters agreed that regulation/regulatory expense was delaying bringing this technology to patients.

 

The 3 Billion Dollar Player Weighs-in

The biggest dollar player was the California Stem Cell Institute which has a 3 billion dollar budget and 12 research centers. Its director spoke, and his message was clear, concise and right on the money (and with 3 billion, it should be). The FDA has to loosen-up its grip and find an intermediate path between unregulated stem cell clinics and full-on clinical trials, because there is a desperate unsatisfied need and that need will be satisfied  – just as water flowing down a hill will find a path –  with or without the FDA’s help. He was very persuasive. Reminds me of an old TV ad: “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.”

Interestingly, no one picked up on what I though was the most egregious over reach in the draft guidelines, namely that the FDA guidelines silently incorporated or read the homologous and more than minimally manipulated requirements from 361 registration facilities (1270.10) into the exemption for same surgical procedure places (1271.15). Under the actual rule (1271.15) same day surgical procedures can do non-homologous and more than minimally manipulation. At least those two terms are not in that rule. Legal Method 101 instructs that if terms are in 1271.10 but not in 1271.15, then the 1271.10 terms and restrictions cannot be read into 1271.15 which is what the FDA is doing based on its interpretation of “‘such’ HCT/P’s.” (Maybe too technical.  I’ll have more to say about that another time.)

 

Maybe there is a viable lawsuit

Something else I realized as a result of a couple of the astute presentations. I said in the last post that you can’t sue on a guidance document because it’s just the agency’s “current thinking.” However, if a guidance document is really disguised rulemaking without meeting the rule changing requirements, then maybe there is a lawsuit. Many presenters were clear about the fact that these guidance documents are disguised rule changes, so I’m now more optimistic about the chances of a legal challenge.

 

People are Mad and are going to do something about it

And speaking of possible legal challenges, while all of the presenters were very professional, very cordial, ostensibly courteous and complimentary to the FDA panel members on the dais, I sensed that quite a few, many in fact, were pretty upset by what the FDA is trying to do with the draft guidance documents.

So here is my prediction/wish/what I hope to make happen.  There won’t be one lawsuit filed if the draft guidelines go into effect. There will many lawsuits. I don’t think these folks are going to go quietly. My sense is that the big players, sophisticated players, like Rubin, the fellow who started a society and has 5800 members, the guy with dozens of clinics, they have seen too many good results to give up their most effective tools. All these guys either run or are closely connected to prestigious professional societies and  I predict that many of them are going to try to stop these guidance documents, in court or in Congress.

I hope for everyone’s sake the FDA really listened today, because people are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it. They want better and quicker access to this new technology, and my hope is they will get it.

Rick Jaffe, Esq.

www.rickjaffe.com