Next month will be the 1st Houston Stem Cell Summit organized by Robin Young, who also organizes the New York Stem Cell Summit. I’ve been a bit tough on this meeting for a perceived lack of diversity in their program of speakers.
I interviewed Robin Young (RY) about the meeting and found his answers quite interesting and helpful.
1. As the organizer of the Houston Stem Cell Summit, what do you see as the key ways in which this meeting will be unique from other stem cell meetings?
RY: Top investigators, debates, patient panel, the largest suppliers and highest capitalized stem cell companies and my latest market and technology forecast. But the star of the show is the Texas Medical Center in Houston. I don’t think there is any other concentration of medical institutions cranking out as much stem cell research as there is here. In the last 18 months, the combined investigational activity of Texas Heart Institute, Texas A&M, MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University and University of Texas at Houston have published more than 80 papers in peer review journals. Setting the Summit in the midst of such clinical research ferment will be, I think, the most distinguishing and attractive feature of this meeting. We’re in their backyard. (I’ve attached a bibliography of these papers)
2. The readers of this blog constitute a diverse group including scientists, patients, lawyers, doctors, regulatory officials, grant agency officials, students, reporters, and the list goes on. In a nutshell, why should these folks come to this meeting? What might they learn? How might it inspire them? Would it be more appropriate for some of these folks than others?
RY: More information. Up close and personal with the diverse group of stem cell researchers at these institutions. Vigorous debates. Can the FDA keep up?, commercial interests, patient interests — aligned or not? Are patients entitled to their own stem cells? Or are they drugs? A panel of patients who’ve been treated with stem cell therapies. Finally, an inside look at the business models (and their respective clinical research models) for the highest valued and most successful stem cell companies.
3. Some of the readers of the blog have contacted me concerned that the Houston meeting, based in part on the list of speakers, might be kind of one-sided, to be frank. What might you say to reassure them that there will a robust dialogue that includes diverse perspectives?
RY: We haven’t been biased in the 8 years of the New York Stem Cell Summit, why start now? The NYSCS is valued because it delivers high quality, objective information and discussion. No different for the Houston meeting. The meeting kicks off with my presentation which, if anyone has ever heard it, is both data rich and almost depressingly realistic. Professor Arnold Caplan will set out the scientific foundation for adult stem cells. Professor Caplan is considered to be the “father” of MSCs. Then we dive into the latest clinical research. I’m designing this meeting to be an open, robust and high quality meeting. We DO have commercial sponsors (for example Celltex) but we also have such medical sponsors as Texas Heart Institute and Texas A&M. I’m aware of these concerns. Attendees don’t have to worry about this meeting being one-sided. It won’t be. Our purpose is to describe what’s actually occurring in the lab, in the courts, at the FDA, in the clinics and in the companies trying to commercialize stem cells. No bias.
4. I’m especially interested in your two debates included in the meeting. To your knowledge, have other stem cell meetings had actual debates of this kind?
RY: I’m also excited about the debates. We’re going to have two of them. Each has debaters — one taking one side of the proposition, the other the other side. Our moderator is one of the most experienced legal minds in regenerative medicine — David S. Smith from Pepper Hamilton in Pittsburgh. These debates are designed to get beyond headlines and the explore the issues raised by, for example, the Regenexx vs. FDA case, the rise of stem cell treatment centers and the role of the FDA or State Health Boards in regulating them. On their surface, both issues may appear to be simple. But they are not. A debate format, I think is the best way to dig out all issues, articulate and examine them. So far as I know, we’re the first to incorporate a debate approach.
5. I think the debates are a great idea. Both my readers and I are curious as to who the actual debaters will be–can you fill us in on that? I see the two questions/statements to be debated, but who will be pro and con for each of these debates?
RY: We are missing one debater, but I hope to have that person set by the end of this week. When I do, then we’ll post up the complete list — debaters and moderator. So far, every debater is a lawyer. Is that good or bad?
6. How many people do you predict will attend the meeting.
RY: We’re expecting between 300-400 attendees – small enough to allow networking and quality time with presenters.
7. I already know some of the answer to this, but tell us from your perspective, why Houston as a home for this meeting? Do you envision this as an annual event in Houston the way the Summit has been in NY?
RY: We’re in Houston because this is where the research is. I think Houston can eventually become the nexus of stem cell commercialization. It’s also where a ton intellectual property is coming out of Texas Heart, Texas A&M, MD Anderson, Rice, Baylor and University of Texas. (And I say that as a resident of Philadelphia and a card carrying member of the Pharma corridor which extends from the Philly suburbs through New Jersey). The Texas Medical Center has the potential to become a “silicon valley” for stem cell companies — providing the capital markets start to put more money to work here. Yes, this will be an annual event.