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Peter Diamandis Is the Latest Tech Futurist Betting on Stem Cells

Peter Diamandis Is the Latest Tech Futurist Betting on Stem Cells
From Wired - February 15, 2018

Diamandis met Hariri 12 years ago, on an airstrip in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The latter had had flown his Lear jet 2,000 miles for the weekends air show. The former was there to award the X Prize Cups cash prizes to that years civilian spaceflight stars. They started chatting about Charles Lindbergh, whose memoir inspired Diamandis to create the X Prize. But talk soon turned from rocket-powered planes to placentas.

In the 80s, when Hariri was a young neurosurgeon at Cornell University, he had an epiphany while looking at a first-trimester ultrasound of his oldest daughter. The placenta was developing so much faster than his peanut-sized progeny, he hypothesized it must be rich in the kinds of cells that give rise to all others: stem cells. And he turned out to be right. The placenta was indeed a stem cell factory. Up until then, stem cells used in medical research were taken from bone marrow, the umbilical cords of newborn babies, and aborted fetal tissue. That last one was the one stoking the flames of a fiercely raging ethics debate. Hariri saw in the placenta a way to get around that moral morass, and an economical one to bootthe temporary organ carries roughly 10 times the amount of stem cells that can be harvested from cord blood.

In 1997, Hariri left Cornell to kick out two companies devoted to collecting placentas, dismantling them, and turning their stem cells into regenerative therapies. LifeBankUSA did the storing, and Anthrogenesis Corp did the processing and productizing. While the latter didnt actually get any products to market (or publish any of its data), its patented harvesting technology was intriguing enough that cancer pharma giant Celgene bought it in 2002 for $45 million. Hariri became head of the Celgenes new Cellular Therapeutics Division.

Over the next 14 years, he led the companys efforts to transform the placenta-derived stem cells into treatments for things like Crohns disease, arthritis, and stroke. But of the nine clinical trials the company registered to test the therapies in humans, only four of them were ever completed (three were terminated, one withdrawn due to low enrollment, and one is still ongoing). The cells have yet to make it to market.

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