Mission of Impact

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Frank Barry came all the way from Ireland to Atlanta to add to the discussion at the three-day Business of Regenerative Medicine (BRM): Cells at Work course, last week on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus. But he also took something away.

“This was an outstanding experience,” said Barry, who spoke about mesenchymal stem cell therapies as one of the first presenters on the first day of the workshop (Monday, July 20), hosted by the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience in the new Engineered Biosystems Building. Then he stuck around for a couple more days to absorb everything he could.

“A mixture of science, company presentations, and a view from investors and Wall Street – the combination was really valuable in terms of getting a good overview about what’s driving the business,” said Barry, professor at the National University of Ireland-Galway, and one of the world’s leading stem cell scientists.

The workshop’s roster of speakers covered elements critical to business success in five growing and evolving technology market areas: mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), cord blood and neural stem cell therapies, immunotherapies, tissue engineering and cell-based devices, and organ-on-a-chip and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies.
“We understand already what’s driving the science, but it’s very good for us as scientists to understand what drives the business side of all this,” Barry said. “This is important stuff, and I’d like to see this conference keep growing in the future.”

So would Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, host of next year’s Business of Regenerative Medicine workshop. The event has grown since he first attended, several years ago at Case Western University. He’d also like to see the industry keep moving in an upward direction and addressed some of the challenges.

“There are always concerns in the field if we don’t see huge results from a clinical trial, so a big question is, how does that impact people’s view of the promise of regenerative medicine,” said Reeve. “We’re in a complex field and as we think of the business of regenerative medicine, we want to identify technologies that are right for commercialization, and understand at what point do we really know something is ready to move out of the lab and into the clinic.”

As a business, regenerative medicine is still very much in the early stages, though there is confidence among research leaders like Bob Guldberg, executive director of the Petit Institute, who said, “One can think of healthcare innovation potential as being the overlap of what is possible with technology, what is desired or needed by patients and clinicians, and what is viable in the market place. But there remain significant challenges to overcome in terms of showing these technologies are not only safe, but lead to improved outcomes for patients at costs that our health care system can afford.”

That sense of clear-eyed optimism is shared by Reeve, whose feelings about the promise of regenerative medicine are colored by personal experience. His brother, the acclaimed actor/director Christopher Reeve, who died in 2004, became a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury in 1995. He and his wife Dana, who succumbed to cancer in 2006, were avid supporters of research in regenerative medicine. Also, Brock Reeve’s father-in-law died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

“My brother, my sister-in-law and my father-in-law all had conditions that regenerative medicine can help us either cure or impact or better understand,” Reeve said. “I think that’s the promise of regenerative medicine, that’s the pull. That’s why we see scientists changing directions in their careers.”

He tells the story of Ricardo Dolmetsch, global head of neuroscience at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Boston. “He was a professor at Stanford, but he changed the focus of his lab because his son was diagnosed with autism and he really wants to understand it,” Reeve said. “So, he changed directions. He’s trying to have an impact.”

The same might be said of the 90-plus people who attended or presented at the BRM workshop last week.  One take home message was clear.  Unlike even five years ago, companies and investors are placing major financial bets on regenerative therapies, creating optimism that they will soon impact cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration, osteoarthritis, and a broad range of other major unmet clinical needs.  

Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience


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