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