Health consumers and stem cell therapy innovation: markets, models and regulation

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Global health consumer demand for stem cell therapies is vibrant, but the supply of treatments from the conventional science-based model of innovation is small and unlikely to increase in the near future. At the same time, several models of medical innovation have emerged that can respond to the demand, often employing a transnational value chain to deliver the product. Much of the commentary has approached the issue from a supply side perspective, demonstrating the extent to which national and transnational regulation fails to impose what are regarded as appropriate standards on the ‘illicit’ supply of stem cell therapies characterized by little data and poor outcomes. By contrast, this article presents a political economic analysis with a strong demand side perspective, arguing that the problem of what is termed ‘stem cell tourism’ is embedded in the demand–supply relationship of the health consumer market and its engagement with different types of stem cell therapy innovation. To be meaningful, discussions of regulation must recognize that analysis or risk being sidelined by a market, which ignores their often wishful thinking.

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