Companies engaged in direct-to-consumer marketing of purported stem cell treatments and exosome-based therapies for the prevention and treatment of Covid, even if not approved or authorized by national regulatory bodies and not supported by convincing safety and efficacy data . There are 38 companies in question and they were identified by an international group of researchers.
The analysis, published in the journal Stem Cell Reportsalso found that most of these companies claim to be able to treat long-Covid, the cause of persistent brain fog, fatigue and other symptoms linked to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Beware of online treatments
“People seeking treatments online, especially for Long Covid, need to be wary of false marketing claims that downplay risks and make misleading claims about the likelihood of benefits,” said Leigh Turner, professor of bioethics in the Department of Health, Society and Behavior from the University of California, Irvine and first author of the study -. It is understandable, given the considerable number of individuals who continue to fall ill after the acute phase of the Covid infection”.
It is disturbing, because those who contracted the disease were struck by an acute infection – continued Turner -. And it’s also concerning because the people who pay for these products don’t have access to evidence-based treatments.”
The companies’ thesis
Turner, in the early months of the pandemic, published a similar analysis in the journal Cell Stem Cell of U.S. companies marketing unlicensed and unproven stem cell therapies and exosome products that claimed to prevent or cure Covid.
The companies identified in the current study continue to support these theses, adding that they can also provide therapies for Long Covid. The study estimates that 36 of the 38 companies in this analysis reported having specific treatments for Covid. In this regard, Turner underlined: “Patients who are targeted by these marketing claims are particularly vulnerable. They are suffering and, in some cases
long time, making them highly susceptible to deceptive and persuasive marketing representations.”
“Although some of these patients may have access to renowned Long Covid clinics, which work with the best available evidence – continued the expert -, this does not mean that they are getting the therapeutic relief they seek”.
Risks and costs of products on the market
In addition to the potential medical and psychological risks of using these products, many of them are also expensive. For the subset of companies included in the current analysis that disclosed pricing information on their websites, the cost of purported treatments ranged from $2,950 to $25,000. “In addition to the possibility of being harmed by these products, there is also the possibility of being scammed out of thousands of dollars,” Turner highlighted.
Of the companies found operating in spring 2020, only one was still marketing Covid interventions at the time of the new study. “This is an ever-evolving market,” said the professor. “Some companies have stopped marketing after receiving warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission; other companies and clinics have entered the market and in some cases have apparently managed to escape the attention of regulators and law enforcement.”
by Aureliano Stingi
A network of clinics
Of the 60 clinics operated by these companies, 24 are based in the United States and 22 in Mexico, while others are located in the Cayman Islands, Guatemala, Malaysia, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. “The response from regulators and law enforcement to companies making unsubstantiated claims in the early days of the pandemic has been strong,” Turner concluded. “I hope this study encourages regulators and law enforcement in these Countries to continue to take action in response to affected companies, which put patients at risk of physical injury and financial loss, by using deceptive marketing practices to sell unapproved and unproven products.”