Stem Cells – This Historic Medical Breakthrough Is A Game Changer For Biotech by John Mauldin,
One of the most marvelous medical breakthroughs in the history of the world has just occurred. For the first time, neuroscientists treated a total quadriplegic (a 21-year-old young man) with stem cells, and he has largely recovered the functions of his upper body after just two months.
This news is incredible for two reasons. First, using pluripotent stem cells, scientists have been able to help a patient’s severed nerves repair themselves. This discovery also points to the potential to accomplish the same sort of regenerative healing in every organ in our bodies.
One of my longtime best friends Patrick Cox brought this news to my attention. Patrick is the author of the Transformational Technology Alert newsletter from Mauldin Economics. He focuses primarily on biotechnology but looks at all sorts of interesting companies and technologies that are going to transform our world.
The depth of Patrick’s knowledge of multiple disciplines sometimes staggers me. In fact, major scientists call him to share results and ask questions. They do so hoping that Patrick will point them to other research that they haven’t come across yet. I kid you not. This guy is at the center of a nexus of anti-aging researchers and biotechnologists that has few parallels.
Below, is Patrick Cox’s weekly letter where he tells his subscribers about this fantastic breakthrough from one of the researchers he has followed for almost 20 years Dr. Mike West of BioTime (BTX).
BioTime Makes History with Announcement of First Stem Cell Spinal Cord Therapy Results
By Patrick Cox
USC neuroscientists just announced truly historic news about BioTime’s (BTX) (*see disclosure below) stem cell platform. For the first time, a quadriplegic patient with complete injury to the spinal cord has substantially recovered.
I’ve told you this was coming, but I wanted to get more information to you today as news of this long-awaited breakthrough in neurobiology spreads through the media. In fact, the news is even better than the information released by the Keck Medical Center of USC would indicate… and you should understand why.
A press release of this nature must follow strict conventions enforced by the SEC and FDA as well as traditional scientific guidelines. For example, the news release describes this spinal cord treatment, an injection of stem cells into the area of spinal cord injury, as “a procedure that may improve neurological function.” Watch the following video, however, and the only reasonable conclusion you can make is that the procedure has already done that.
Watch the entire B-roll video that USC has made available to the media. B-roll video isn’t edited as a story, of course. Rather, it’s meant to supply short video snippets for reporters. Nevertheless, most of this material is worth watching as it provides more information than is available in the extremely reserved press release, which is available here.
Note that Charles Liu, MD, PhD, says that this procedure should change the way that scientists and doctors think about spinal cord injury, making it possible to aim for full functional recovery for the first time.
The part of the B-roll that really gets me is seeing Kris Boesen, the 21-year-old man who received the treatment, wipe tears from his eyes while expressing his gratitude toward the scientists who made it possible. Prior to receiving BioTime’s stem cell therapy, Boesen was completely paralyzed from the neck down and couldn’t even lift his hands to his face.
Note also that Boesen mentions that his recovery is ongoing—from the top of the spine downward. We don’t yet know if he will regain use of his lower body, but he reports positive indications.
The critical part of this story that is entirely left out of the press release, however, is that the patient would have made a far better recovery if he had been treated promptly. Boesen was injured on March 6 but could only communicate his desire to participate in the clinical trial through head movements. He had to undergo assisted breathing therapy before he could give verbal consent.
That means that about a month of serious scarification took place before 10 million AST-OPC1 cells were injected into Boesen’s cervical spine. Scarring is the enemy of nerve reattachment and the reason that this procedure is only being administered to patients who have recently suffered spinal cord injuries.
Nevertheless, those stem cells managed to sort out and self-assemble, connecting severed nerves correctly from the upper and lower sides of the injury. This is the true power of regenerative medicine. It doesn’t rely on the surgeon’s skill. It’s the patient’s genome and the biological wisdom inherent in pluripotent stem cells that affect the cure.
None of the scientists will publicly say this, but I’m positive that the results would have been much better and more rapid if Boesen had been given the injection immediately following his injury. Additionally, Boesen started his treatment in the middle of a dose-escalating study, so he was only given half of the full therapeutic dose. (A full therapeutic dose will probably be 20 million neural stem cells.) So by no means should we view his dramatic and life-changing results as typical of what would happen to a patient given optimal dosage promptly after injury.
What This Means for Investors
Essentially, Boesen’s ability to lift light weight overhead after a catastrophic spinal cord injury is proof that Dr. Michael West, co-CEO of BioTime, was right when he launched this project at Geron, which he founded in 1990. I first met Mike, by the way, shortly thereafter.
West did not run the company he founded but acted as Chief Scientific Officer so he could concentrate on the science and technology. West made many of the most critical and ground-breaking discoveries regarding stem cells. Though at the time his theories and predictions were much maligned by the medical mainstream, his pioneering work has revealed the potential of stem cell medicine and made Boesen’s restored functionality possible.
West’s decision to hand Geron’s management over to others may have not been the best decision though. Despite extremely promising data regarding the spinal cord therapy as well as the cancer vaccine, the company seemed to lose its way. This actually worked to benefit current BioTime investors, however, as they are the majority owner of subsidiary Asterias (AST).
Moreover, Geron’s most important intellectual property was acquired for a fraction of the cost spent to develop its massive library of patents as well as several important technologies now in or near human trials. For example, Asterias also has a cancer vaccine headed for clinical trials in the UK. I consider it superior to those now being developed by cancer companies that have ten times the capitalization of parent company, BioTime.
Stock traders are just not that clever as a group, so the capitalization of Asterias has rivaled BioTime’s, creating interesting arbitrage opportunities. This doesn’t make sense, of course, but success in the Asterias spinal cord trial should help smart investors begin to understand that the same scientific biotechnologies implemented by Keck Medical Center of USC are also operative in other BioTime therapies.
BioTime subsidiary CellCure NeuroSciences is developing retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) stem cells for the treatment of eye disease with the support of the Israeli government. CellCure has been given permission to start the second patient cohort in a human trial of RPEs for age-related macular degeneration, for which there is currently no cure. I believe that spinal cord injury is actually a more difficult target than blindness, so I’m extremely optimistic that CellCure’s therapies will work for various diseases of the eye.
The spinal cord results should also focus attention on my favorite BioTime subsidiary, ReCyte. It controls some of the company’s most revolutionary stem cell technologies. Among them is endothelial precursor stem cell therapy, which has been shown to rejuvenate the cardiovascular system in animals. ReCyte also has brown fat cell precursors, which have the potential to fix most of the world’s obesity problems, end most type-2 diabetes, and prevent or repair cholesterol-related disorders.
This is a good day. I’ve been telling people about the potential of regenerative medicine for decades, but until today, we’ve had no proof that it works in humans. It’s a good time to be alive and investing.
*Disclosure: The editors or principals of Mauldin Economics have a position in this security. They have no plans to sell their position at this time. There is an ethics policy in place that specifies subscribers must receive advance notice should the editors or principals intend to sell.
Subscribe to John Mauldin’s Free Weekly Publication
Each week in Outside the Box, John Mauldin highlights a thoughtful, provocative essay from a fellow analyst or economic expert. Some will inspire you. Some will make you uncomfortable. All will challenge you to think outside the box. Subscribe now!