One of the biggest stem cell news stories of 2016 has been the REGROW Act, a bill intended to accelerate investigational stem cell and regenerative medicine therapies to patients by lessening FDA oversight, but in the last couple months REGROW has mostly disappeared from the news.
Will REGROW do a reappearing act like some kind of magician?
REGROW is in fact still out there so it is not gone by any means. Republican senators have been discussing including REGROW in a large medical spending bill that could include funding for NIH.
It could come up after the presidential election during the lame duck session. Would it pass? If so, would Obama sign it? It seems like the odds are still very long for REGROW becoming law, but it’s not impossible.
Another possibility is that REGROW could come up in its current or a new form in the more distant future. There is definitely political will in some quarters in the long haul for reduced FDA oversight.
Readers of this blog will know that I have been opposed to REGROW in its various forms as it has evolved this year because I believe it would pose unacceptable risks to patients and to the stem cell field by promoting transplantation of stem cell-based products into patients based on less data than is prudent.
There are some very accomplished people who disagree with me and with the others (e.g. ARM and ISSCR) who oppose REGROW, so the debate has and will continue.
The main reason that I have taken the risk of publicly opposing REGROW and other talk of strongly weakening the FDA’s oversight in this area is the dangers this would pose to patients and the field. Some have attacked me for my outspoken opposition to REGROW and to extreme criticism of the FDA.
REGROW’s earliest incarnation proposed a highly risky conditional approval system that would have taken a shortcut around Phase III clinical trials, spurring me to speak out. There was even talk amongst REGROW supporters of charging patients for receiving still unproven stem cell therapies, going against the longstanding and I think very wise tradition of not charging patients for unproven therapies, with only the rarest exceptions that the FDA can grant in certain cases.
REGROW has evolved to be substantially less extreme, but it would still be too risky. The current FDA system is not ideal and some changes could be helpful, but a major challenge is to find a way to identify the “sweet spot” of regulation that is efficient, but rigorous and doesn’t put so many risks on patients.
Unproven stem cell and regenerative medicine therapies are not somehow magically special in the sense of having a dramatically better chance of being ultimately proven to be both safe and effective as compared to other kinds of investigational drugs (e.g. drugs taken as a pill). As a result of this reality, history tells us that the vast majority of cellular therapies will not ultimately be proven both safe and effective, which means that while they are still in an unproven state, rushing cell therapies to patients will only do these people more harm and in turn hurt the field.