Stem Cell Therapy for Lower Back Pain Moves Closer

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

There’s good news on the horizon for those who suffer from lower back pain due to disc degeneration.

Mesoblast, an Australian biotech company, has partnered with Grunenthal, a large German pharmaceutical company, to commercialize an investigational stem cell product called MPC-06-ID -- a stem cell formula comprised of mesenchymal cells derived from the bone marrow of healthy volunteers. Mesoblast could receive up to $1 billion from Grunenthal if the treatment is successful.

MPC-06-ID is currently in a Phase III placebo-controlled trial in the U.S. In the trial, millions of stem cells grown in a laboratory are injected into the patients’ degenerated discs with the goal of reducing inflammation and causing the discs to regenerate.

In previous trials, 47% of those who received the injection had a significant reduction in pain 12 months later. The results persisted for three years.

The estimated study completion date for the Phase III trial is March 2021. So, unfortunately, there is a bit of a wait. But Mesoblast is hopeful the study findings will result in FDA approval.

The company is also studying a stem cell product for chronic lower back pain. More on Mesoblast’s products and how they treat back pain can be found here.

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What does this mean? First and foremost, it’s great news for people suffering from back pain. This is a population that is woefully underserved by conventional medicine. Limited options include analgesics like opioids, which are increasingly difficult to obtain, and spinal surgery that is costly, often ineffective and can even exacerbate the problem. I have previously written about these issues here.

Clinicians around the country have been using stem cell therapy (SCT) for years to treat back pain and even difficult spinal conditions like arachnoiditis. However, these clinics have been operating under the scythe of potential persecution for using products not approved by the FDA.

Not only has this placed them squarely in the crosshairs of regulatory authorities which issue warning letters and file lawsuits, but it has also subjected them to internet censorship by Google and others.

The Mesoblast-Grunenthal partnership is indicative of the fact that major corporate investment in SCT is increasing -- and that can be a great thing for consumer choice. More and more biotech investors are recognizing that SCT is the future of medicine, especially when it comes to treating conditions caused by chronic inflammation. Forbes reports that the market size of the SCT industry was $8.65 billion in 2018, with a projected annual growth rate of 8.8%.

We saw recent evidence of this trend with Bayer’s acquisition of Bluerock Therapeutics’ and its stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease and other chronic illnesses. And Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals recently acquired Semma Therapeutics for $950 million in a bet that its SCT products could cure type 1 diabetes.

Why is the SCT market so robust? Transparency Market Research attributes it to a “rise in consumer awareness.” In other words, people are desperate for relief and looking for new treatments. Suffice it to say, any additional treatment option for those suffering from back pain is more than welcome.

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A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.