Your Cells Will Be The Next Currency in Healthcare – Are You Ready?

“Have you had your cells done”? That will be the future cocktail party talk that will bubble around us as we mingle.  

Over the next few years, cell-based medical innovations will revolutionize the way we treat diseases and the way we think about our own personal healthcare.  Increasingly, doctors will be leveraging our own cells as powerful sources of therapies. And that will make our cells very valuable!

People are increasingly understanding that their cells can unlock valuable information.  Already today consumers are using their cells to understand their DNA, get ancestry information and very basic health data to help them make better choices that could impact their health.   And with this comes the understanding of just how valuable their cells can be.

Next-generation discoveries in cells give us new ways to think about healthcare

But recent major medical advancements have enabled us to do more with our cells than just get ancestry information and basic health reports – but these give us a real path to longevity and new ways of thinking about our personal healthcare. 

In 2008, the discovery of IPSCs – those very special stem-like cells that can be made to grow out into any type of human cell to create entire human organs or tissues – revolutionized the way medicine can leverage cells for therapies.  No more invasive bone marrow or blood work to extract stem cells. IPSC’s allow the medical community to use these special cells that can be found in many easy-access points such as our hair follicles, as the basis for ongoing research on how to cure disease.  This not only started to make cell therapies more accessible but also more affordable.

And then there was the discovery of CRISPR, the single biggest advancement in gene-editing – allowing the medical community to edit out genes from cells and as commercial uses advance, the technique enables the medical community to edit-out diseases before they even manifest in people.  CRISPR has single-handedly enabled us to move away from simply reacting to diseases or trying to cure them, to instead moving us towards preventing diseases from actually happening in the first place.

Tens of thousands of medical groups are already creating important therapies off the back of these two very important discoveries, creating a ton of excitement around human cell research today.

Going beyond basic home DNA testing kits

So going beyond basic home DNA kits that collect dead saliva cells has already begun. This has created urgency around the need for a simple, non-invasive and affordable home-based collection and preservation service that leverages the full live human cell genome.  The future is about home-based live cell collection solutions that can leverage cell sources as common as your own hair follicles.

Collecting and preserving your cells for life will unlock real medical therapies that exist today and get you ready for ones that will be developed in the near future.   

“Getting your cells done”  – or, collecting, preserving and banking your cells will be a foundational path to future healthcare.   Getting your cells done will be as mainstream as getting the flu shot and it will forever change the way we think about personal health.  

Just like computer power did – cell therapy is advancing rapidly

The computing industry proved out that over time computers became exponentially more affordable and accessible to mass consumers. As computing power grew faster and faster, it enabled those same consumers to do more and more with their computers.  That same trend is happening in the medical community with cell-based therapies: the pace of innovation around using cell-based therapies to cure more and more diseases at an increasingly affordable rate is real. Therapies that leverage cells for tissue engineering such as the ability to grow new cartilage or skin, as well as innovations around using cells to create simple organ structures have already been succeeding… Heart, liver and kidney regeneration are just around the corner.

What’s taking so long?

With all these innovations, people often ask why we haven’t made more progress?   Why is it that cell therapy and the broader conversation around the value of stem cell research feels like we have been talking about it for ages, but yet still feels like it’s in its infancy?  – that’s because it is!  

Stem cell research has often been compared to the invention of flight by the Wright Brothers.  But not only is that comparison valid from just the sheer magnitude that the invention of flight has had on us as humans, but the comparison is equally valid when you think of the pace of innovation and the complexity around that innovation.

Did you know that while the Wright Brothers invented flight in December 1903 – that it only happened on that day after nearly 8 years of the brothers experimenting with flight as a concept, and that they only flew 23 meters?  What’s even more surprising is that it would take yet another nearly 11 years after their that first flight to see the first paying customer actually take the first commercial flight in 1914?   

Many researchers tag the 2008 discovery of IPSCs as the beginning of real capabilities of working with cells for therapeutic purposes, and other experts compare the CRISPR discovery to the significance of the Wright Brothers inventing flight – in a very similar way as the Wright Brothers – we have really only been at it for a few years! 

Some would argue that the pace of cell therapy innovation is actually more rapid than the path of innovation around flight. It seems as if these days, every week there is another therapeutic implementation that leverages our own human cells.

That’s why I’m excited about cells and the role that they are increasingly playing in the future of healthcare and how we think about healthspan.   By leveraging the power of our cells, we unlock a valuable currency for our future health and longevity.

That makes our cells a very important currency.  Your future health will depend on unlocking their value.  We are now at the cusp of real human-based cell therapies –  making your cells the next currency in healthcare.

So, have you done your cells yet?

Cell Therapy in Canada: Striking the Right Balance Between Regulation and Innovation

When it comes to the development of new health technologies and drug treatments, we have to be patient. In fact, the stakes couldn’t be higher because not taking the correct approach, with proper oversight at each step, could have dire consequences, including injury — or even death. That’s why it can take years, even a decade, for new forms of medicine to be tested for safety and efficacy before they’re approved.

This is exactly why we need to take a science-based approach when it comes to regulating cell therapy treatment, or regenerative medicine, which will play a major role in the future of healthcare. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients who might benefit from these forms of treatment are extremely diverse, including those suffering from Type-1 diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, burns, cancer and strokes, just to name a few. There is no shortage of excitement from physicians, scientists and patients.

While the benefits of cell therapy are promising, the regulatory and oversight framework in Canada will need to keep pace with advancements made in the sector on a global scale. According to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, there are 906 gene and cell therapy companies worldwide, with just over 1,000 clinical trials currently taking place. The industry is also growing rapidly. In 2018, the field raised $13.8 billion internationally, an increase of 73 per cent from the year before.

Recognizing this, Health Canada recently launched consultationswith stakeholders to “modernize its regulatory framework to meet the new demands of today’s increasingly complex health technology while still protecting the health and safety of Canadians.” The government should be applauded for reaching out and engaging with industry leaders, since taking a collaborative approach backed by informed expert opinion will ensure we foster innovation while upholding patient safety, which is the top priority.

As the founder of a company that does not administer cell therapy treatment but collects live cells and maintains them through cryopreservation for possible future therapeutic use, we fully support and encourage the development of new clinical trial regulations that can establish Canada as a world leader in regenerative medicine.

But this country isn’t alone when it comes to foreseeing the large-scale impact cell therapy treatment will have and the need to play regulatory catch-up with rapidly advancing technology.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States announced plans to accelerate cell therapy approvals.The FDA expects it will receive some 200 investigational New Drug Applications, which are requests for authorization to administer an investigational drug to humans.

This increased focus on regenerative medicine has prompted the FDA to hire an additional 50 staffers to expedite the approval process. The fast-track process is not to be confused with final approval for use with the general public. Rather, it’s an “accelerated approval pathway may offer a faster route to approval for new treatments, including potentially curative benefits in significant, unmet medical needs.”

As with any new treatment in medicine, there will always be a debate on its future impact on patients. While there are differences of opinion regarding the timelines for regenerative medicine treatments, one thing is clear: The industry is growing on a global scale and the federal government has taken notice. Canadians should feel confident that Health Canada is taking the right steps in consulting with industry to ensure their safety is protected and that our nation remains a world leader in cell therapy innovation.

I believe that our own cells are the next currency in healthcare, opening up regenerative medicine treatments and next-generation analytics, and I am excited about the role Canada is taking in this bright future.