FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf talking at the World Stem Cell Summit
The World Stem Cell Summit annual conference in Atlanta kicked off today with a clarion call from Dr. Robert Califf, the Deputy Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration. He told the audience:
“We want you to accelerate translation to produce safe and effective therapies that can be delivered reliably”
It was a message that everyone in the room, scientists and patient advocates, would love to be able to comply with. The question of course is how do you do that in a way that puts the emphasis on both speed, to get the therapies to patients who need them, and safety, so you don’t put those patients at risk.
That’s quite a challenge considering that, as panel moderator Julie Allickson of Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine said:
“the estimate now is it costs $2.4 billion and up to ten years to take something to the clinic.”
Even if that dollar amount is higher than many think it would take to bring a stem cell therapy to a clinical trial it is an indication of the challenge the field faces.
Califf, who has only been at the FDA for 8 months, says that regenerative medicine is:
“not the only field exploding with scientific knowledge and seeing a future that’s very different from what we see today so it’s exciting but also an enormous challenge for the FDA. One of the real eye openers for me is to be at the FDA and hear about drugs that have been on the market for 45 years and we’re still learning about them.”
He says the first goal of the FDA has to be to protect the public, and that it’s hard to balance safety and innovation. “That’s an issue we struggle with every day.”
Califf was optimistic that the balance can be struck and progress can be made, but said that this can only truly be done if the patient is at the table as an active participant.
“Our national clinical research system is well intention but flawed. We need to have a new system that shares information right across the system and where patients are at the center. Patients should be driving the national research infrastructure. They are an essential part of change. It’s happening in Congress because they are hearing from constituents that this is what they want, a voice in the research being done that affects them.”
For the patients and patient advocates in the audience it was a welcome message. For years they have been calling for a louder voice in the research that affects them and their loved ones. Knowing they have a sympathetic ear in the FDA could be an encouraging sign that their voices are finally being heard.
We will be writing more as the conference unfolds so stay tuned!