Date: March 3, 2018
The man behind Sanitatem Therapeutics: Alfred Friman
Written by: Kennedy Casio
Published by Project Discite
Steam-cell therapy: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was an initial wave of companies and clinics offering stem cell therapy, while not substantiating health claims or having regulatory approval. By 2012, a second wave of companies and clinics, had emerged, usually located in developing countries where medicine is less regulated and offering stem cell therapies on a medical tourism model. Following the initial discovery of stem cells potential, there has been many who researched this further, but unfortunately few in the United States. Any research in stem cells, regardless of intent, is prohibited in for example Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota; and generally looked down upon. One man, who disregarded the scientific consesus is Alfred Friman, who started Sanitatem Therapeutics in 2012 with the second wave and today boasts a market cap of $28.40 millions as of 2018 and today we sat down with him for an interview in his office in Panama, Central America.
*** The interview has been edited to clarify questions & answers. ***
For those unfamiliar with stem cell research, what is it?
Stem-cell research is the continuous development of various therapy methods, where the use of stem cells, that is an unspecialized cell that can become one or more different types of specialized cells such as blood and or nerve cells, to treat and or prevent a disease or condition. It's seen some major developments since 1999. Out of all the fields in stem-cell research, we at Sanitatem Therapeutics chose to focus solely on mesenchymal stem cells, called MSC's, from umbilical cords.
What is Sanitatem Therapeutics?
It (Sanitatem Therapeutics) is a biopharmaceutical company, seeking to develop and commercialize new chemical entities, with regenerative potential. Our cellular therapies have been successful in producing to name a few cartilage, heart and liver cells but also heal tissue injury and reverse the effects of immune disorders. Another one of our focus have been to use this technology, by collecting data, to make human health predictions. So far we've been successful in accomplishing both.
Who is behind all of this?
It's obviously me, a handful of specialists that I've known for quite some time and various other local health care providers down at our office and clinic. We run the research and development section in the same building as our actual clinic. It's proved to work out fine for us.
Where are you doing all of this research?
We're currently operating out of Panama, Central America, but as of 2018 we've received a FDA fast track designation to treat major depressive disorder in the U.S., but only that and nothing else. Our treatment is meant to act as a ketamine-like antidepressant without its negative central nervous system side-effects. The bulk of our business is still in MSC's and that we will continue to do in Panama up until the federal government allows us inside the U.S.
Who typically goes to Panama for this treatment and how?
The typical customer is hard to pin-point. We receive customers from all classes, nationalities, gender and age. We're also seeing a great diversity in their health conditions. Usually they take the first and best flight down to Panama and get admitted. It's actually a really uncomplicated business transaction. I know of a couple famous persons in the U.S., actors and the likes who've brought family members for treatment. But also some folk who are at the last stop, in terms of medical interventions and come down to try our treatment alternatives. All in all, we've seen no signficant adverse effects, only variations in improvement.
Why aren't you doing this research in the U.S.?
Any research is illegal in some states and applied therapies in most. It's illegal for us to conduct expertimental therapies. The only treatment, with stem cells, that is legal in the U.S. is for wound covering thanks to a federal exemption. Regardless of our promising results. I believe, that the national conversation suffered a significant stigmatization, following the President Bush remarks on stem cell research all the way back in 2001. So I assess that this is a stigmatized conversation that we as Americans have been unable to have ever since. We've seen some interest in the conversation but nothing that would change the game. Just this year I've seen the FDA sending warning letters to a laboratoy in San Diego and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issuing a fine to a health center. We're a business like all others, we're dependent on a net positive to continue, so we try and avoid the slow bureaucracy and lobbyists of the U.S. That's why we're operating out of Panama.
Isn't it contraversial to attract U.S. citizens down to Panama for experimental treatment?
It depends on how you look at it. Most people are ignorant about stem cell research and believe that it's all about harvesting aborted babies. That the cells are tainted somehow. But that just isn't the case, we collect ours from an umbilical cord with the parents consent and then the cells are multiplied in our laboratory.
I wanna be diplomatic, of course, so we don't receive any repecursions here in the U.S. in the future. But this is how I look at it: the FDA is being used by the pharmaceutical companies in what's called chronic capitalism, where companies use the government to either deter or shut down any competition in the market-place. Today, you require an extensive testing, certification and then more testing of any new entity that you produce and that costs. A lot. In average, we're talking about $2.5 billions to get a drug to market. That wasn't an option at all for us (Sanitatem Therapeutics) at that time, nor is it today. And that cost furthermore, is without us ever selling a single product or treatment. So it's an emcumbersome system that effectively deters any new players in the game and alas ensures the monopoly of the already big pharmaceutical companies who've already acquired the funds for these tests.
The big pharmaceutical companies are absolutely terrified of cheaper treatment options that cure instead of delay the onset of their problematic health conditions. Billions of dollars would be lost if we started curing people in the U.S., "heal a patient - lose a client". Big pharma is not interested in your overall health, just your pocket book and that's why it is painfully obvious that our federal government agencies no longer represent the people.
So ultimately, one could say that it is contraversial, but it really isn't. Already in 2004, U.S. physicians, scientists and entrepreneurs had the opportunity to go down to Panama for this business and some did. We did it relatively lately, in 2012.
What does your company offer that other don't?
Well, the general concept of operations have been for a long time that, you collect mesenchymal steam cells and transfuse immediately. Any delay would have a reduced function and decreased efficacy in treating diseases. So what we did was that after we collected ours, we just decided to cryopreserve them, sorta like in a Sci-Fi movie, up until the time of transfusion in our patients. It didn't thaw or diminish so that was one of our first big successes. We're a small company and we're not really that special, but we get more customers than we can handle and most that we schedule with fly overnight to see us. Our reputation in terms of success stories proceeds us and so I believe that must mean that we're doing something right. It's just a matter of time before the national conversation back in the U.S. has to be taken like adults.
Project Discite, started in 2017, features cutting-edge technologies developed by innovators within NASA, the military, federal laboratories, universities, and commercial companies. The project reports new technologies from NASA and other leading R&D sources worldwide.