Unproven stem cell therapies: is it my right to try?
Luciana Riva, Laura Campanozzi, Massimiliano Vitali, Giovanna Ricci, Vittoradolfo Tambone
Background. Nowadays one of the most critical aspects of innovative cell-based therapies is the unregulated industry, as it is becoming a competitor of the regulated system. Many private clinics, worldwide, advertise and offer cell-based interventions treatments directly to the consumer and this poses a risk to both vulnerable patients and health systems. Several countries have implemented Compassionate Use Programmes (CUP) that provide patients with medicines that have not yet completed the approval pathway, in the event that no reasonable alternative exists. Recently, in the public discourse, compassionate use has been increasingly associated with a patient’s right to try. Thus, the aim of this study was to assess public knowledge of the clinical trials process with specific reference to innovative stem cell treatments, and trust in the institutions responsible for regulatory activities. We also asked people about their “right” to use unregulated therapies.
Methods. We developed an ad hoc questionnaire on three main areas of concern and administered it to 300 people in the patient waiting room at an Italian university hospital.
Results. Our findings suggest that people have a good knowledge of the clinical trials process and trust in healthcare institutions. Nonetheless, one person in two believes it is a right to use unregulated therapies.
Conclusions. We stress the need, in the age of cellular therapies, for a commitment to support vulnerable patients and to strengthen awareness among the public about the substantial boundary that differentiates experimental therapies from unproven therapies. There should not be a “right to try” something that is unsafe but rather approved treatments and in line with good clinical practice. The trend, which emerged on this issue from our study, is quite different, confirming the urgent need to improve health information so that it is as complete as possible.