Life and death: The human face of the cell therapy industry

Author: David Brindley, 04/22/13

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Within the past few weeks, we have all lost someone who has impacted our lives. And this I can guarantee.

On Monday 8th April 2013, I woke up, grabbed my tennis bag and headed for a morning hit. In the car, I heard the lacquered voice of the BBC’s John Humphrys report the death of Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first and, to-date, only female Prime Minister. And sure enough, as I drove past Somerville College, Oxford (Thatcher’s alma mater), floral tributes had already been laid.

Upon reaching the tennis club, I grabbed my bag from the trunk of my car and noticed a copy of a partially read Iain Banks’ novel. As you may know, Banks recently announced his diagnosis of terminal gall bladder cancer.

Two days later, we learned of the death of IVF pioneer Sir Robert Edwards – someone to whom the cell therapy industry owes an immense debt. And on the day that a group led by Harald Ott, based at Massachusetts General Hospital, published results of a study to produce a tissue-engineered kidney, less than a mile away the world paused in disbelief at the deplorable attacks at the Boston Marathon. An event that has shaken the city of Boston, the world and, I hope, the cell therapy industry.

Hoping that an entire industry is emotionally affected by such a terrible event may sound at the least curious. However it is intended, in an (appropriately) regenerative sense, to stiffen our resolve as members of the cell therapy industry to achieve our interdisciplinary mission.

In most cases, absent of unique personal motivations, this would serve as a fair descriptor of our collective mission: to understand many current unknowns in science and translate these advances into innovations that facilitate improvements in global health and wealth.

Boston, in addition to being a city where I have lived and continue to spend a great deal of time, is home to a world-leading nucleus of stem cell researchers. Moreover, the city nurtures a range of vital stakeholders including clinicians and the venture capital community, essential to ensure continuity in the cell therapy translation pathway. And, as highlighted by the tenet of this quotation “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients” (Herbert Simon, 1978, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics), amongst the continual storm of scientific advances, it is easy to lose sight of why we have actually chosen to dedicate ourselves to the development of a sustainable cell therapy industry.

For example, battlefield burns and scars incurred during the Second Gulf War, acted as a stimulus for the founding of the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM). Further, amongst the settling dust of the 9/11 attacks, first generation tissue engineered skin substitutes by Advanced Tissue Sciences (now Shire’s Dermagraft) and Organogenesis (Apligraf), were successfully utilised.

There is already evidence, albeit in some cases early stage, that future cellular therapies may offer safe and efficacious treatments for neurodegenerative conditions including dementia (Thatcher), currently untreatable cancers (Banks) and for a growing portfolio of acute injuries (Boston victims).

The true face of the cell therapy industry is not the Ivory towers of academia or the glossy corporate infrastructure of big Pharma. It is an industry that is adaptable and capable of mounting a sustained robust response in the face of adversity and success, which in health care is analogous to life and death.

It is my hope that the cell therapy industry 2013 can support those affected by the regrettable events above; and that the cell therapy industry 2027 will have the intellectual power and moral strength to attain its long-term aspirations: to deliver efficacious and accessible improvements to global health.

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David Brindley
David is an international thought-leader in the translation of life-science innovations into commercially viable products and services. His expertise spans the ‘Valley of Death,’ encompassing regulation, basic science, process engineering and finance. This distinctive skill set positions David at the forefront of socially responsible investments – in particular initiatives that make impactful contributions to global health. David currently holds a joint appointment between the University of Oxford and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and is an active Fellow of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and the Royal Society for the Advancement of Arts and Manufacturing. In addition to being an Editorial Board member of a range of international academic and industrial journals, David is also a founder of Translation Ventures, a boutique consultancy that is actively engaged in maximizing the financial and societal value realized from cutting edge scientific innovations. Disclosure: David A Brindley has no other relevant affiliations or financial involvement with any organization or entity with a financial interest in or financial conflict with the subject matter or materials discussed in any postings apart from those disclosed. D.A.B. is subject to the CFA Institute’s Codes, Standards, and Guidelines, and as such, the author must stress that his contributions to this site are provided for academic interest only and must not be construed in any way as an investment recommendation.
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