August 6, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Rick Perry plugs Celltex MSCs on Fox for COVID-19 prevention

Why is former Texas Governor/Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry plugging unproven stem cells from a clinic firm called Celltex for COVID-19 prevention on Fox News?

Perry follows in Giuliani’s footsteps?

And more generally, what is it with conservative politicians promoting unproven therapies for COVID-19 and in particular stem cells for the novel coronavirus disease?

Rick Perry plugging Celltex stem cells on Fox News
Rick Perry plugging unproven Celltex stem cells for COVID-19 on Fox News.

First, we had Rudy Giuliani plugging what he called “stem cells” for COVID-19 on his webcast. This actually turned out to be natural killer (NK) cells, which are not stem cells, for COVID-19.

The product in question there contains placental NK cells made by the firm Celularity. Its NK product was originally intended to be used for brain cancer (still being studied), but somehow makes sense to be used for COVID-19 too? Giuliani thinks so.

Admittedly, maybe he’s not the only one. An interesting side note is that the California Stem Cell Agency CIRM just approved $750K for Celularity’s COVID-19 work too. Maybe I’m wrong to be so skeptical? I don’t think so. Still I hope it works!

Promoting Celltex on Fox

Now we have Rick Perry doing something similar to Giuliani but going a big step further. Perry is plugging the unproven stem cells from Texas clinic firm Celltex for COVID-19. Celltex has a long history of selling unproven and non-FDA approved fat mesenchymal stem/stromal cells or MSCs for a variety of health conditions offered via their stem cell clinic.

After it ran into issues with the FDA many years ago, Celltex moved its MSC injections south to Mexico. In my view what Celltex offers in the way of MSCs for various health conditions is unproven and the same is true for the supposed COVID-19 application.

Many different clinic firms have been selling the idea of stem cells for COVID-19 without having clearance from the FDA via an IND. Both the FDA and FTC have been warning firms about doing this. However, few firms have an ally like Perry who can essentially do an ad for them on Fox News. Perry used to be on the company’s board, received MSC injections from the firm, and his wife is still on the board.

Nothing to see there, right? No conflict of interest at all.

What exactly did Perry claim?

What is the Perry interview video on Fox News actually like and what’s said?

In it he is outright promoting his favorite stem cell firm for COVID-19 and then later some “magic” air filter or something. Again, this is just pretty much free advertising and to me he seems over-exuberant that stuff already is known to work.

He also claims that Celltex is in Phase III and II trials in Mexico and in the US, respectively, with the latter “approved” by the FDA. I wondered: is that accurate about the FDA?

Yes.

Remarkably, it appears the FDA has cleared the Celltex IND here.

For years I was saying that Celltex should try to get more data and an IND so you’d think I’d be happy right now, right? However, I’m more puzzled about this development. I can’t quite grasp what the heck is going on at the agency related to clearing INDs for cellular products for COVID-19.

Perry also claims that MSCs have preventative powers against COVID-19, which to my knowledge is unknown at this point so that’s a big exaggeration in my view. COVID prevention would be great, but it’s a high hurdle and would require repeated injections of MSCs so that’s a concern.

He then goes on to talk about a “biodefense filter” that supposedly works against the virus. Really?

Looking ahead

Since I don’t know what data they have to back their IND, it’s possible Celltex has more than I realize to back up their MSCs for COVID-19 but I kinda doubt it.

Still, them having an FDA cleared IND makes them now in a very different position both than in the past and than the typical stem cell clinic that sells the idea of stem cells for COVID-19 without working with the FDA.

Another question is whether Celltex will try to charge patients to be in their cleared trial. I don’t think that’d be an easy thing to do, but it’s not impossible. However, if I understand correctly then this is also a placebo-controlled trial so they couldn’t charge patients in that control arm.

So, could they be using some of their earnings to do a trial that doesn’t directly profit them?

More broadly, I’m still waiting for Trump himself to promote unproven stem cells for COVID-19, but hopefully that won’t happen.

Even so, after Giuliani and Perry promoting cells for COVID, I have to ask: who’s next?

Roger Stone? Maybe not so far-fetched given this wild photo somehow on the World Stem Cell Summit website.

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