Stem cell-based Regenerative Medicine has huge power for good in the clinic and at the same time great potential for economic development. Those two things go hand in hand.
As I argued in my stem cell book, biotech commercialization of stem cells is not a bad thing, but rather if it is done responsibly it is a good, necessary part of advancing therapies to help patients.
From an economic perspective stem cell-based Regenerative Medicine is a new, exciting brand. Update, now 6 years later, Regenerative Medicine is more an established area and the FDA has a relatively new designation called the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy or RMAT that is drawing huge interest. It has results in dozens of approvals for accelerated regenerative product testing.
It’s a brand, but a unique one because it is shared by so many diverse parties and influenced by tens of thousands of people and companies around the world. “Regenerative Medicine” is not owned by any one person or company.
A good analogy would be to “Soft Drinks” rather than to “Coke” or “Pepsi”. Soft Drinks are what we might call an “umbrella brand”. A higher-level brand. It’s important to point out that if “soft drinks” as an umbrella brand get a bad name as being linked to diseases and being harmful to health, for example, it is bad for all soft drink companies…or to extend the analogy all car companies or all airline companies, etc. .
The same kind of thing is true for Regenerative Medicine as an umbrella brand. If some folks give it a bad name, it hurts everyone with an interest in the brand including current and future patients.
There is a shared collective interest in promoting this brand and enhancing the public’s knowledge and positive, evidence-based perceptions of Regenerative Medicine. Of course there are specific organizations with the words “Regenerative” and “Medicine” in their name such as the great journal Regenerative Medicine (disclosure, I’m on the editorial board), CIRM, the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM) and many others so perhaps the stakes are highest for them on this brand, but it still has a powerful, more global impact. Without commercialization of stem cells we collectively cannot get safe, effective, evidence-based therapies to patients.
Our brand “Regenerative Medicine” faces some serious challenges even as it advances. These challenges include threats to the perception of the brand as scientific and trustworthy. These come from scandals such as STAP and others that do not reflect the ethos of our field but disproportionately and negatively influence the Regenerative Medicine brand.
Publicity is good for Regenerative Medicine, but hype isn’t so we need to draw a line. As much as we all want to spread the word about stem cells and how exciting they are, there is such a thing as going too fast, cutting corners, or hype.
Dubious stem cell clinics are another threat to the Regenerative Medicine brand. I don’t think the legit stem cell/regenerative medicine field is doing enough to counter these clinics as they spread like mushrooms all over the world including in the US.
As much as there are threats and challenges to Regenerative Medicine, it is also an incredibly, exciting and even revolutionary time for this brand and its associated fields of science. I usually don’t think of Regenerative Medicine as a brand, but I believe that now and then viewing it from that perspective is a helpful, healthy exercise.
Disclosure–I own no stock or positions in stem cell or regen med biotechs.