Many of you readers know tech guru Peter Diamandis for his great X PRIZE, but he’s also involved in the regenerative medicine world including a new effort called Fountain Life.
Teaming up with life coach Tony Robbins and others for Fountain Life raises some red flags for me.
What’s in this article
Peter Diamandis and Fountain Life | Stem cells rah rah! | Adventures in birth-related stem cells | Fountain Life and potent cells | Calling Fountain Life | Diamandis COVID conference | Not selling cells? | Cell therapies and the FDA | Working with the FDA? | What’s next? | References
Peter Diamandis and Fountain Life
Today’s article originally started out with a different planned focus.
The original idea was for a post about Robbins and what I saw as his hyping of as-yet unproven stem cells. However, as I researched the piece early on I realized there was a lot more to this story. These efforts involved Diamandis, who together with Robbins and biotech leader Robert Hariri have formed Fountain Life.
I’m more familiar with Bob Hariri and Diamandis for their biotech Celularity, which is studying potential cell therapies. Their trial work on cancer is especially interesting. I am curious to see more of their clinical trial results. It seems like Celularity is pursuing allogeneic cells the right way by working with the FDA.
The goals and current offerings of Fountain Life are harder to pin down at the moment.
Stem cells rah rah!
The story here still starts with Tony Robbins.
His new book Life Force includes major plugs for stem cells. I watched several interviews Robbins gave about the book. He’s just gushing about the supposedly amazing power of stem cells.
He has also mentioned going himself to Panama for stem cells. Not surprisingly, the results were described as amazing. It seems he’s referring to The Stem Cell Institute down there in Panama. That clinic has also previously mentioned Robbins and he put up a pic on Instagram about going there.
Again, at first glance, I thought the story here was going to be Robbins promoting stem cells and specifically in Panama, but I was wrong on the latter. Instead, these days with the new book and video interviews he’s pitching both stem cells and Fountain Life, which seems to be an American firm.
Adventures in birth-related stem cells
This isn’t Tony Robbins’ first involvement with stem cells. He’s also an investor in Hariri and Diamandis’ firm Celularity. Perhaps then it is not so surprising that the co-authors on the new Robbins book are also Hariri and Diamandis.
During the pandemic, Celularity has been a big proponent of the idea of cell therapies for treating COVID. It has been a popular idea more generally. So far the data haven’t shown strong promise for the idea, but trials are still ongoing.
As I was doing research for this post, I stumbled again on a 2021 story by Eileen Guo on MIT Tech Review. It was about a COVID super-spreader event at a Diamandis conference called A360. She also covered a subsequent webinar from the organizers.
Thinking back on that Guo article, I had only remembered the super-spreader part. In re-reading it again I realized what hadn’t stuck the first time: Fountain Life featured prominently in the story.
I’ll come back to his later as some of what Guo reported resonates with what I found.
Fountain Life and ‘potent’ cells
In reading some sample chapter material from Robbins’ new book and its reviews on Amazon, it seemed to me that Fountain Life was selling at least the idea of a better life in part through some kind of stem cells. Looking around on the web, Fountain Life sounds like a new-agey kind of clinic firm pitching several alternative approaches to health. It’s heavy on imaging and genetic screening it seems. What about stem cells?
Based on some of the verbiage, I wondered: could Fountain Life could be already selling unproven stem cell injections? For instance, check out this statement on what Fountain Life is providing from the Peter Diamandis website (emphasis mine):
“Fountain Life therapies restore healing and boost regenerative capabilities by harnessing the most potent stem cells for maximum therapeutic impact. These clinical-grade cells are sourced from laboratories that operate under the highest manufacturing standards, so we can change the way people age confidently and safely.”
To me, that sounds very suggestive of an already ongoing cell treatment offering. It is written in the present tense.
So do they sell stem cell injections or not currently? It seemed unlikely to me at the time I first read this blurb. Maybe it’s just meant to convey excitement about possible future stem cell therapies that Fountain Life might offer after doing clinical trials?
Imagine if instead the website passage said, “In the future we hope that our clinical trial data will show that Fountain Life stem cell therapies are safe and effective leading to their approval by the FDA for specific indications in perhaps as short as a decade.”
Calling Fountain Life about possible stem cells
To try to further clarify whether Fountain Life could be currently selling stem cell injections, I thought I’d call the numbers listed on their website. Note that along with the phone numbers, several locations are listed, all in the U.S.
As a first step, I called their main number listed under “Contact Us” a couple of times but had no luck getting through to a person. (Interestingly, in one of my phone calls to a Fountain Life location, the automated message at the start of the call mentioned a connection to Legacy Medical Centers, which seems to have marketed stem cells. I’ll have more on this connection in a future post.)
Next, I tried their McMurray, PA location and got through to an actual person on the phone. She didn’t seem surprised when I asked about possible stem cell treatments but didn’t say whether they sold them. She said someone would have to call me back to talk to me about it.
Finally, I tried the Fountain Life White Plains, NY number. There the representative told me that they do sell stem cell injections. When I called back to ask for more info, she wasn’t sure what kind of cells were being used, but again confirmed they do stem cells.
I was really surprised by this but puzzled too. Was there a misunderstanding?
Looking a little more into that particular Fountain Life location on the web it seems the physician there is Dr. George Shapiro.
Diamandis COVID conference and Fountain Life
Why did the Shapiro name ring a bell?
Going back to Guo’s MIT Tech Review story, she mentioned that George Shapiro was part of Fountain Life leadership:
At times, Diamandis and Fountain Life’s chief medical officer, George Shapiro, a licensed physician, also provided advice to viewers; Daniel Kraft, a nonpracticing pediatrician who chairs a pandemic task force that Diamandis created last year, chimed in as well. All three had attended the A360 event.
I highly recommend reading all of Guo’s article.
Not selling cells?
Still with more questions than answers on the stem cell front, I reached out to Fountain Life leadership. CEO William Kapp was definitive in his reply:
At Fountain life we do not offer any cellular therapies unless we are participating in an approved FDA trial. At this time we are not participating in stem cell therapy at ourcenters. When we have the opportunity to participate in FDA trials we will do so through an FDA approved IRB.
That’s a clear “no” on the stem cell treatments.
Later Shapiro also emailed me to say they weren’t offering stem cell treatments so another “no”.
Why is this question so important?
Background: cell therapies and the FDA
As the FDA regularly reminds us, at present there are very few FDA-approved stem cell therapies.
While not all stem cell therapies require a full drug-level FDA approval, many do including perinatal cell approaches. These are generally allogeneic, meaning from someone else. Allogeneic biologics are generally drug products requiring firms to work extensively with the FDA before selling them.
That phrase “most potent” in that quoted passage from the Diamandis site caught my eye.
In the stem cell field, the most potent stem cells are pluripotent such as iPS cells or even totipotent stem cells from human embryos, but it’s hard to imagine that’s what they mean. Such cells generally are not directly used in clinical trials due to their potential to form tumors called teratomas.
If you differentiate such potent cells into specialized cells leaving few-to-no remaining pluripotent cells, then the resulting product might be able to be used clinically, if there are robust trial data on safety and efficacy leading to an FDA approval.
However, sometimes certain folks talk about “potent” cells and mean something else. Those in the perinatal stem cell field often tout the birth-related cells they use as also being young or “potent” in a different kind of sense it seems.
It’s also notable that under the “cell therapy” umbrella, some have also been selling exosomes, little bubbles of cellular secretions. The FDA has indicated that exosomes are often going to be drug products as well, requiring premarket approval.
Plan to work with the FDA?
Fountain Life sure seems excited about possible therapies using perinatal cells. From Robbins’ new book (emphasis mine):
“Why did I get involved with Fountain Life? Because I’d experienced firsthand tremendous benefits of advanced diagnostics and cell therapy and wanted others to share it. Plus I wanted to stay on the cutting edge for my own sake and my family’s as well. Most of all, I shared my cofounders’ vision to scale up delivery of these marvelous therapies and make them accessible to millions of people.
Peter, Bob, Bill Knapp, and I are on a mission to democratize regenerative medicine and make it widely available. We’re leveraging the impact of many new breakthrough treatments, as well as allogeneic stem cells.”
Robbins tightly connects Fountain Life to both screening and allogeneic cell therapy. He does mention the FDA and getting an IND for a clinical trial at some other point in the book so a thumbs up on that.
It seems that Fountain Life has a new business model in this space, offering memberships that then can allow for access to certain care from others. I found the Terms and Conditions page on their website astonishing for its length and the number of disclaimers.
Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to follow Fountain Life. Will the reality live up to the hype?
Will they start cell therapy trials at some point based on birth-related stem cells?
In the mean time, I hope they tone down and clarify their statements about stem cell therapies.