A clear policy in stem cell therapy will foster innovative healthcare

The rising cost of healthcare has been a cause of concern around the globe. The global economic crisis has seen governments such as the US and Japan attempting to minimise the cost of state-funded healthcare.

The increased prevalence of cardiovascular disorders, metabolic diseases, cancer, etc coupled with the emergence of more virulent forms of existing diseases poses a challenge for current medical therapies.


India is already seen as the world’s low-cost pharmacy as far as conventional therapies are concerned. And the recent economic and epidemiological changes present a lucrative opportunity for the Indian biotech industry to replicate this success in the field of innovative healthcare therapies that include biopharmaceuticals, vaccines, regenerative medicine, etc.

The Indian biotech industry registered a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% in the past decade. While biosimilars — generic versions of biologic drugs — currently make the most significant contribution to the top-line, another promising field is regenerative medicine. This is a novel multi-disciplinary field that relies on cell therapeutics and bio-engineering techniques to enhance the functionality of organs and tissues.

Among various types of medical therapies that can be classified under regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy is, perhaps, the most well-known. Stem cell therapy began with bone marrow transplants.

Since then, the field has expanded to using adult stem cells, human embryonic stem cells and found uses in in-vitro-fertilization (IVF), biomaterial engineering, etc.

With stem cell products being rolled out in various parts of the world, the global stem cell market is poised to grow at a rate of 30% from 2010 to 2012 and projected to be around $1.2 billion by 2012 and expected to reach around $16 billion in 2017.

However, the stem cell market in India is still underdeveloped. In the next few years, the field of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine is likely to move towards translational research and eventually to clinical practice in India.

According to the GBI Research report, the stem cell market in India is estimated to touch $600 million by 2017. The Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR), the apex body for the regulation of medical research in India and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have until now only approved indications for stem cell therapies in bone marrow transplantation, labelling all other procedures as experimental and it needs to be conducted only in the form of clinical trials.

However, stem cells have been used to restore vision in patients who have suffered corneal damage due to chemical injuries or burns. Therapies involving stem cells are also being offered as treatments for spinal cord injuries, heart ailments and Parkinson’s disease. Worldwide, scientists have even used stem cells to generate cartilage and insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

Stem cell technology seems to have huge health benefits and business potential; but it is essential to develop a framework to tap into this immense potential in a planned manner.

The government has drafted guidelines for stem cell R&D, but a definitive law is yet to be formulated. This has led to expensive procedural delays of 12-18 months that effectively drive investors away to destinations such as Malaysia that have a clear policy and decision within 90 days.

2013-01-28 Stem Cell Therapy
About Michael Zand

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