How much does stem cell therapy cost in 2021?

One of the most common questions that patients have asked me over the last decade is, “how much do stem cells cost?” They actually seem most often to want to know more specifically how much the treatments should cost.

To try to authoritatively answer this we need data from the present and past along with expert perspectives.

These kinds of questions on what are common and reasonable prices have continued in 2021. However, the types of queries have also evolved as things have gotten more complex in this area. There are many layers to the question of cost, which I cover here in today’s article. In the big picture, the most worrisome potential cost is to your health if you proceed with unproven stem cell injections.

What is in this article

Stem cell cost questions  |  Stem cells cost $2,500 to $20,000  |  Why do stem cells cost so much?  |  How have stem cell prices changed?   |  Stem cell supplement cost  |  FTC actions and patients as consumers  |  Does insurance cover stem cell treatments?  |  Patient fundraising  |  Looking ahead will stem cell costs go down? | References

This post is the most comprehensive look at stem cell treatment cost and costs of related therapies that I’ve seen on the web, especially factoring in our inclusion of historical polling data from past years here on The Niche. The above bullet point list is what is covered in today’s post and you can jump to sections that interest you most by clicking on those table of contents bullet points.

You can also watch the video I made summarizing the key points of this post below.

Stem cell transplant cost questions

Furthermore, it encompasses other important issues related to insurance, fundraising, and approaches to being a smart consumer. Keep in mind that almost all stem cell therapies outside the bone marrow/hematopoietic sphere are not FDA-approved and most lack rigorous data to back them up so this post is definitely not recommending you get them. I advise against it, but many people still want info on cost.

Let’s get started.

Stem cell therapy cost polling data 2020 The Niche
Stem Cell Therapy Cost 2020 Polling The Niche.

Stem cells cost $2,500 to $20,000

After more than a decade of blogging about stem cells from just about every angle, it’s interesting to consider trends in the types of questions I get asked. Beyond cost, I also often get asked How much of a stem cell treatment price does insurance cover?

Of course, insurance (or lack thereof) directly bears on cost too. I’ll get more into insurance later in the post.

Polling stem cell injections number
Polling stem cell injections number, The Niche.

In a way it’s not so surprising that cost is so much on people’s minds now for a few reasons.

First, as compared to many years back, people now view stem cell injections as a more everyday thing. Stem cell therapy is often available just down the street at a local strip mall.

Back in 2010 and in the 5 or so years after that, people instead more often viewed stem cells as some amazing thing out of reach to them at that time. Now people view stem cell offerings through the lens of consumers.

Sadly, another major part of the reason for the change in perceptions of stem cell treatments is the tidal wave of stem cell clinics from coast to coast in the US selling unproven and sometimes dangerous offerings.

At the same time, some universities and large medical centers also sell stem cell or similar offerings that aren’t proven. I’m worried that that number may be increasing too and patients who may be paying there for unproven stem cells way at the very high end of the cost spectrum, sometimes above $100K.

Other stem cell suppliers and clinics market stem cell-related “stuff” that isn’t real stem cells such as platelet rich plasma or PRP (see my comprehensive guide to PRP including a helpful infographic here) or injections of often “dead” perinatal stem cell products.

For all these reasons about once every year or two, I do polling asking the readers of The Niche here about their experiences.

I’ve done the polling again now in 2020 in a more comprehensive form.

Why do stem cells cost so much?

To have a sense of cost, we need to ask patients certain questions. How much did you pay per injection? How many injections did you get? Where did you get them?

Keep in mind that the total cost of stem cell “therapy” is the product of the cost per injection times the # of injections. For instance, if a stem cell injection costs $8,000 and you get 10 injections, your total cost is $80,000.

Unfortunately, the unproven stem cell clinics generally do not volunteer data on how much they charge. They also often encourage patients to get many injections.

Our 2020 polling data (you can still participate and I will update this) for stem cell treatments are in the graphic above. Here are some highlights.

The self-reported responses on cost for stem cell treatments, as indicated by respondents to our 2020 polling, suggest the price has gone up.

While the most common answer last year in 2019 was $2,501-$5,000, in 2020 the most common response was “$10,001-$20,000”, while $2,501-$5,000 was close behind.

The percentage of people paying the most, more than $100,000, was only slightly (probably non-significantly) higher in 2020, but both in 2019 and 2020 the percentage of people paying over $100K was much higher than in 2018 polling.

Keep in mind this is the cost per injection so how many injections do patients typically get? While the number of injections reported most commonly was “1” in both 2019 and 2020, in 2020, the second most common answer was 6-10 injections, a big boost from 2019. Again, more injections end up multiplying things up to boost the total cost. Only a few people in the polling had many injections, but in my view it is still striking to see anyone say they’ve received more than 20 stem cell injections.

How have prices changed?

How much is stem cell therapy? Polls

For comparison, the 2019 polling can be found here, but some of the key results are captured in a combo screenshot I’ve included here. I got a lot more responses to the polling in 2019 so that makes me more confident in the data than in the 2020 polling so far, but I hope we’ll get more responses moving forward in 2020 and if we do, again I’ll update the info in this post.

What you can see from 2019 is that a plurality of respondents reported getting one stem cell injection, but 60% of people nonetheless got more than one stem cell injection.

Remarkably about 1 in 20-25 people received more than 20 stem cell injections.

About another 1 in 20 people got 6-20 injections. I find this amount of repeat injections to be surprising and concerning as it amplifies health and financial risks.

In terms of cost per injection, the results are pretty similar to 2018 (see at right below) on the whole.

This kind of polling isn’t super scientific, but can gauge trends. Unfortunately, I haven’t really seen much other published data on stem cell clinic costs in actual journals.

I don’t know if it’s noise or not, but the percentage of people paying over $100K is about 2-fold higher in 2019 versus 2018.

There are more people may be paying $10K-$20K as well now in 2020 vs. 2019 or 2018.

Stem cell cost for supplements

There is growing interest from the public in stem cell supplements. I did a post on this earlier in 2020 so take a look here, which was essentially a review of stem cell supplements. In terms of cost, while supplements are far less expensive than getting stem cell, PRP, or exosome injections, supplements are still pricey for what you get. It’s not unusual to pay $100 for a small bottle of stem cell supplements, the other factor to consider is that these supplements generally have no solid, published data behind them so you might as well be paying $100 for water. It’s unclear what risks taking these supplements might bring as well.

FTC actions, patients as consumers, treatment options

On the economic side, you might think that the feds like the FTC would be actively pursuing false or even fraudulent marketing of stem cells via the web and other kinds of advertising, but in total so far the FTC to my knowledge has only taken relatively few actions such as this one last year. and then some letters for COVID-related marketing of stem cells and other biologics earlier this year in 2020.

Oddly, there were just that a couple blips of FTC activity, especially considering the sea of questionable stem cell clinic-related ads out there. This ranges from major newspapers to inflight magazines to mobile ads on a stem-cell-mobile to television. Then of course there are the infomercial seminars.

Patients should also view themselves as consumers. Savvy customers considering paying money to stem cell clinics should do their homework. I often tell patients to use at a minimum the kinds of tough standards they bring to the car-buying process. Over the last few years Consumer Reports has been interested in the stem cell treatment world and done some reporting that is worth reading.

Does insurance cover the cost of stem cell treatments?

Unfortunately for patients desperate to try stem cells, insurance generally does not provide any coverage, which often leads them to take extreme financial measures. These steps can include fundraising (more below).

In  my view, the Regenexx brand has made a big deal out of how some employers contribute towards costs of their clinics’ offerings, but I’m not so clear on where that stands today in 2020.

Patient fundraising: ethics and effect on net stem cells cost

Patients are often reaching out to me so I know that many of them have gone to extraordinary measures to raise the money to pay to unproven stem cell clinics. It’s painful to think about what little they get in return. Since we are by definition talking about unproven medical procedures here, in my view this money is largely down the drain.

If you have other data on stem cell economic issues such as what patients pay please let me know. Then there’s the issue of what it actually costs the clinics per injection and in turn: what’s their profit margin?

What ends up happening is that patients take out second mortgages on their houses, try to collect funds from friends and relatives, or turn to online fundraising. The internet fundraising efforts most often end up on GoFundMe. This is a trend I’ve been noticing for years. Some colleagues even published a paper on this trend, a very interesting and an important read. The paper is “Crowdfunding for Unproven Stem Cell–Based Interventions” in JAMA by Jeremy Snyder, Leigh Turner , and Valorie A. Crooks. Here’s a key passage:

“As of December 3, 2017, our search identified 408 campaigns (GoFundMe = 358; YouCaring = 50) seeking donations for stem cell interventions advertised by 50 individual businesses. These campaigns requested $7 439 308 and received pledges for $1 450 011 from 13 050 donors. The campaigns were shared 111 044 times on social media. Two campaigns were duplicated across platforms but shared separately on social media. Of the 408 campaigns, 178 (43.6%) made statements that were definitive or certain about the intervention’s efficacy, 124 (30.4%) made statements optimistic or hopeful about efficacy, 63 (15.4%) made statements of both kinds, and 43 (10.5%) did not make efficacy claims. All mentions of risks (n = 36) claimed the intervention had low/no risks compared with alternative treatments.”

Supposedly GoFundMe has taken some steps to lower the often ethically thorny stem cell fundraising on its site, but I’m not sure how much it has changed.

Looking ahead will stem cell costs go down?

There is pressure on stem cell clinics now in 2020 in large part due to two factors, which could drive costs down or up depending on how things play out. First, the FDA is much more active against unproven stem cell clinics. This may mean more money from the clinics going toward paying attorneys and/or FDA compliance experts. You’d think this might drive costs up, but the still large number of clinics may keep pressure to stay with keeping price tags lower.

The second factor in 2020 and now in 2021 is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many clinics to stop injections temporarily. While a surprising number of clinicsI did by phone were still open in a small informal survey, others were in a holding pattern. This may lower supply which could raise prices, but I think demand is likely way down as many patients stay home to avoid COVID risks. This could be temporary though and as things start re-opening, as they are now, the clinics may be able to capitalize on a surge of pent-up demand.

To sum up, the answer to the question, “How do stem cells cost?” is largely driven by clinic firms aiming to profit. Overall, clinics will charge what they think patients will pay them, which will always be a moving target. I urge patients to be cautious both medically, talking to their doctors, and financially.

References

  1. The Trouble With Stem Cell Therapy, Jeneen Interlandi, Consumer Reports, January 11, 2018.
  2. FTC Returns Almost $515,000 to Consumers Who Bought Deceptively Marketed “Amniotic Stem Cell Therapy” Between 2014 and 2017, Federal Trade Commission, April 30,2019.
  3. Crowdfunding, stem cell interventions and autism spectrum disorder: comparing campaigns related to an international “stem cell clinic” and US academic medical center. Snyder J, Turner L. Cytotherapy. 2020 Oct 17:S1465-3249(20)30857-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jcyt.2020.09.002. 

Some notes:

  1. This post focuses on offerings of stem cells and other regenerative services. It is not focused on the costs of proven bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cell transplants for blood cancers. These costs can also be high, but are generally covered by insurance and scientifically proven in most cases. In that same sphere, bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cell transplants for autoimmune disorders are often not covered. This category includes multiple sclerosis (MS), scleroderma, and others that are still considered experimental. However, that might be changing as more data accumulates that immune ablation followed by hematopoietic stem cell transplants is quite effective for some patients. More published data is needed in this area. I’ve had past concerns about patients being charged for these still investigational hematopoietic stem cell transplants for autoimmune disorders including at Northwestern. You can read about that here.
  2. It’s very important to factor in the number of injections that patients are receiving. If the cost per injection is, for example, $5,000 then the total cost goes up to $20K if the patient gets 4 injections. Many clinics offer discounts on subsequent stem cell injections after the first one.
  3. Clinics may also increasingly have to pay more for malpractice insurance as the number of patient lawsuits goes up. They are likely to pass these costs, or at least try to, on to patients.
  4. This post is not medical or financial advice.

16 thoughts on “How much does stem cell therapy cost in 2021?”

  1. I have CKD and in stage four. While there is still a reasonable amount of kidney function left I am considering stem cell therapy. There are numerous clinics worldwide with most of them legal in their own country. From my perspective it is impossible to know which ones are legitmate and which are not. In my research I found one that is close to home with reasonable costs. Their procedure is most similar to what legitimate research clinics in the US are doing. https://mexstemcells.com/kidney-failure/
    Are you aware of any clinics anywhere that are both reputable and succesful in treating CKD ?
    With thanks,
    Don.

  2. Elhussein Mahmoud

    We will start to inject autologous BMSCs 3 times in case of osteoarthritic patients with a reasonable cost around $ 3000 in total.

  3. I read recently that the use of frozen umbilical cord sourced MSCs is not as effective as bone marrow sourced MSCs that have never been frozen. The article said that the thawing process rendered the umbilical cord sourced MSCs less viable, less effective. This brings in a question for the clinics offering treatment with umbilical cord derived MSCs where the cells used are usually frozen for storage.

    The ongoing clinical trial in Atlanta GA. NCT02359929 uses the patient’s bone marrow aspirate as a source. The purpose of the clinical trial using MSCs is to reduce the allo-SCT patients use of 40mg to 50mg prednisone to 2.5mg or 5mg prednisone, daily.

    NCT 02359929 A Phase I Study of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells for the Treatment of Acute and Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease, still recruiting. Emory University Atlanta GA.

    The procedure: Allogeneic stem cell transplant patient, withdraw 30ml of bone marrow fluid, separate the MSCs, grow out in lysate solution, and infuse in patient at 2×10^6/kg duration four weeks once a week, total time required to stay in Atlanta minimum 42 days.
    contacts Ashley Griffin 404-785-0653, or Jonathan Berman 404-778-0676
    Dr. Qayed and Dr. Waller, physician investigators.

    Neil Riordan’s (PhD) clinic in Panama City, Panama does the same procedure using the MSCs from the patient’s bone marrow aspirate, grow out in tissue culture solution, then infuse at 2×10^6 / kg. rate. The cells are never frozen. I enquired about this with the clinic in Panama, filled out the required paper work, called on the phone, etc. I was told that they would not treat me unless I was 5 years after remission.
    I am a SCT survivor from July 19, 2016, the procedure was allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant, I am hoping that a treatment with MSCs would help finish the chronic GVHD that has affected me since the transplant in July 2016.

    1. @Neil,
      Thanks for all the info.
      It’s worth noting that NCT02359929 probably does not require patient payments, whereas Riordan does in general. Not sure about this particular offering from his clinic.
      Also, does he market MSCs specifically for GvHD disease?

      1. The NCT02359929 clinical trial at Emory University in Atlanta is at no cost to the patient. There are no reimbursed costs for lodging, meals and transportation. The treated patient is expected to stay in the area for a minimum of 42 days. I would participate if they would let me, the 2.5mg and 5mg prednisone excluded me from the clinical trial, although through the oncologist that looked into the trial on my behalf said that if I upped my prednisone dosage to 40mg or 50mg for 2 weeks then I might be eligible. The paradox and irony in our country is everywhere and in all aspects. Neil Riordan’s clinic in Panama suggests that the GVHD disease can be mitigated.
        I’m going to do some “whinging” at this time. 43 plus years of performing allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplants and the medical field is still looking for a solution, I have the impression that a blood stem cell transplant patient is a “good” platform for discovering more about the human body’s bio-chemical system. While at City of Hope I was offered 2 different treatment modalities to see if the treatment would resolve the chronic GVHD expression of scleroderma. The jakafi was the first with minimal prednisone, the skin oriented scleroderma progressed very slowly but never ceased, to the point where it spread from my ankles to both calfs, then interior of both upper thighs, then to the abdomen and torso, then to the upper area on both arms. This was allowed to happen from March 2017 to December 2019, on 12/20/19 I stopped the Jakafi and started the Imbruvica.

        During the period of August 16 2019 until December 10 2019 the oncologist at City of Hope suggested that I try extracorporeal photopheresis twice a week for 24 sessions. By the end of the 24th session the scleroderma had progressed and became more stiff and hard at palpation, further restricting my flexibility. Meanwhile since sometime in 2018 I had been seeing an oncologist at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly near downtown LA. This oncologist made me aware that the Jakafi wasn’t working and that the scleroderma was progressing slowly, that if I continued I would develop open wounds on my lower legs due to the cGVHD, which did happen and was a huge long term task to dress every day. When I told him about the photopheresis he told me that it would not be an effective treatment, and he was correct in that prediction. This oncologist suggested that I start the Imbruvica and that it would be effective as well as FDA approved for cGVHD. I started the Imbruvica 12/20/19 at 420mg daily, the progression of the scleroderma stopped, and some of it on my upper arms has resolved. The use of Imbruvica comes with risk as well since it reduces the lymphocytes. This whole experience has been disappointing in that there are inaccuracies persisting in treatment despite 43 plus years of performing allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplants. In hind sight if I had been aware of the difference in GVHD between peripheral blood sourced and umbilical cord sourced stem cells I would have taken the umbilical cord stem cell treatment. The chronic GVHD is very very difficult and I am 4 years out from a 100% match and the GVHD has impacted my quality of life severely.

        Mesoblast Limited has a product derived from umbilical cord MSCs that is marketed in Japan to treat young SCT patients that do not respond to standard steroid therapy for acute GVHD. The FDA recently gave the Mesoblast product orphan drug and fast track designation for phase 2 clinical trials here in the US for children undergoing SCT. Recently a phase 1 trial was performed in New York with the same product to treat patients sickened with Covid-19 on ventilators with about 84% success in the patients being taken off of ventilators compared to those patients not given the MSC derived product.
        The Israel company Pluristem, which has an amniotic tissue derived MSC precursor product, also had a phase 1 trial with Covid-19 patients on ventilators with a 87% success rate compared to those patients not receiving the treatment. The FDA has approved a phase 2 trial for both companies to treat Covid-19 patients on ventilators.

        I am extremely disappointed with the slow adaptation of MSCs to treat chronic GVHD. I have asked my PCP to contact the physicians supervising the Emory clinical trial to see what the results are so far. 43 plus years of chronic GVHD and the effective treatment or therapy is still not settled, I am disappointed.

        I was considering going to the Dreambody Clinic in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, but they use umbilical cord MSCs that have been frozen in storage prior to use. After reading the article about the viability of the previously frozen cells I am hesitant to spend $3000 to $8000 for a 2×10^6 cells/kg treatment that might not be effective as compared to the Neil Riordan technique (same as Emory University clinical trial, cost approx. $20,000.) and the technique that Emory University in NCT02359929 clinical trial.

        1. @Neil,
          Thanks for providing all that info and telling more about your personal story. You’ve been through a lot to put it mildly. I wish I had some brilliant idea to help.

          I’m much more convinced of the data on MSCs from biotechs for GvHD than of the general idea of MSCs for COVID at this point. That could change.

          Wishing you well!
          Paul

          1. Thanks for the response Paul, the use of MSC precursor cells is to reduce the inflammation in the lungs and to allow the patient to get off the ventilator, apparently when a person is infused with MSCs the majority of the cells linger in the lungs (their is a preponderance of inflammation in that area of the body).

            http://investorsmedia.mesoblast.com/static-files/5b588776-7b76-48aa-a607-868f46d98e8b

            https://www.biospace.com/article/mesoblast-ltd-s-stem-cell-therapy-shows-83-percent-survival-in-covid-19-patients/

            https://www.pluristem.com/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/

    1. The lack of QC and QA is the same reason that there is a lack of robust efficacy data. Most don´t do clinical trials and hence, they don´t go through the CMC (Chemistry Manufacturing and Controls) process needed to guarantee both QC and QA. The ones that are doing clinical trials must have this in place so they will be OK when their product is approved.

    2. It’s hard to get any quality metrics on these, as there is little data on actual effect, nor any real metrics of ‘potency’ or ‘purity’ generally speaking or in regards to how they may or may not correlate to said efficacy. Without data on dosage or any other metrics it becomes impossible to have any meaningful quality standards. At best there should be rigorous safety QC in place, which by all accounts is severly lacking.

      And since the ‘products’ are not FDA approved, they are not FDA inspected for any normal food or drug quality standards the FDA might otherwise investigate on… which should worry any potential buyer (be it doctor or patient).

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