Regeneration nation

Houston company uses stem cell technology to treat patients suffering from degenerative diseases

Celltex's stem cell technology has received positive results from its multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Courtesy of Celltex

The medical community has former governor Rick Perry to thank for a major stride in regenerative medicine.

"He had just gotten elected for the last time and he wanted to leave a legacy. He was tired of people going to Japan or Germany when they needed stem cells," recalls David Eller, chairman, co-founder and CEO of Celltex.

That was 2011, the year that the former president of Dupont Pharmeceuticals-Europe and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stanley Jones incorporated as Celltex. Perry got the law passed to make it legal to harvest his stem cells, and Jones implanted them while the governor was under the knife for a spinal fusion surgery.

Perry resigned from the Celltex board in 2017, but the truth is, the company no longer needed his clout. Just a year after its debut, the company had in excess of 200 clients, each paying a banking enrollment fee of $6,500. Now, there are close to 1,300.

From research to recovery
Eller is originally from Houston, and he says his hometown is the ideal home base for the company, with its access to the world's largest medical center. The Galleria-area office and lab employ 35 people, with about 50 workers worldwide.

Close to the same time that his friend Perry received his stem cells, Eller also had the treatment in hopes of resolving pain from a college football injury.

"I would go to work and put four to six Advil in my pocket," the CEO recalls.

Within months, all of them remained in his pocket.

But others have had even more dramatic results. Celltex checks in with patients three, six and nine months after their treatments to find out how they're doing. Eighty-three percent of multiple sclerosis patients have reported improvement of symptoms specific to their disease, as have 73 percent of Parkinson's sufferers. But the staggering fact is that 100 percent of 58 respondents with rheumatoid arthritis say they have benefited.

Implementation and the FDA
Celltex's chief scientific officer, Dr. Jane Young, co-authored a study of two severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis patients whose conditions didn't respond to standard treatments. After trying stem cells, both reported marked improvement in autonomic nervous system and immune function.

Stem cells are gathered through a patient's fat, which can be extracted at any of the 80 facilities around the country that partner with Celltex. The fat is processed at the Houston lab, where processing takes 30 to 35 days.

"We have 15 billion cells in process each day," says Erik Eller, the company's vice president of operations, clarifying that some clients' cells grow faster than others'.

It takes 14 days to come out of cryostasis and leave the lab. From there, the stem cells travel to Hospital Galenia in Cancun, Mexico for implantation, since the FDA categorizes stem cells as a drug if they have expanded as they do at Celltex. That means that a patient cannot use his own stem cells in the United States without a clinical trial. To circumnavigate the red tape, Celltex has simply partnered with the luxurious Mexican hospital.

This is currently the company's biggest challenge, says David Eller, but one he expects to overcome.

"We have very good relations with the US FDA," he says. "They are very interested in what we know. Our approach is really is very progressive and we've grown every year."

Ultimately, Eller hopes to be able to implant stem cells in the United States. But the company's foreign growth is a good start. Celltex is now operating in the Bahamas and is hoping to add Australian extraction facilities sometime this year. They are also in negotiations with a team from Saudi Arabia interested in expanding Celltex to the Middle East.

Other goals for Celltex include improvements both in the realms of sales and revenue and streamlining and improving the safety and efficacy of treatment. Research collaborations with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M will help with the company's medical credibility. This all may help to convince the FDA to allow the Celltex to get a biologics license, the final proof that it is not a drug company. But no matter how it's categorized, Celltex is growing exponentially as its cells.

In order to stay competitive, Texas needs to stay innovative. Photo by gguy44/Getty Images

It's no accident that Texas has one of the strongest economies in the world. Generations of leaders have built and sustained a business climate that welcomes investment and innovation without allowing burdensome regulations and high taxes to get in the way.

Because Texas welcomes job creation and offers families a great quality of life, our population is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Experts say the Texas population will increase by 10 million people by the state we celebrate the Texas bicentennial in 2036. There is no doubt that this is a place where people want to live and businesses want to create jobs.

But we cannot assume that our past record of success is destined to repeat itself. When it comes to creating an economy that offers opportunity for our fellow Texans, we have a lot of advantages. But it is up to all of us to make the most of those advantages and also identify ways that we can do better.

That's why I founded an organization called Texas 2036. We are here to support the long-term strategies and investments that will help Texas remain an economic juggernaut for decades to come — a place where great ideas thrive and the brightest minds want to work.

Texas 2036 is intentionally and unapologetically nonpartisan. While we will engage closely with elected leaders, our work is far different from the short-term urgency of politics. We aren't just thinking about the headlines of the day or the whims of the electorate. We believe what Texas needs is someone taking the longer view and focusing on the demands we know are coming down the road, no matter who is holding public office.

This long-term focus requires actionable, credible data. The Texas 2036 team has spent significant time over the last couple of years building the data sets that will help Texas leaders and the people they represent make the best decisions for our future. This data will provide a foundation upon which we can build consensus around solutions that will support continued growth.

For example, there is no better magnet for job creation than a well-educated workforce with diverse skills. Yet there is plenty of work to do to ensure Texas has the robust workforce needed to attract high-quality jobs. Soon, more than 77 percent of jobs will require a college degree or certificate, but only 28 percent of Texas 8th graders complete a postsecondary degree or certificate within six years of high school graduation. We cannot continue our economic success without significant improvements in educational performance and attainment. But if we make those improvements — and I have no doubt that we can — then we will not only sustain our prosperity, but allow more Texans to partake in it.

Our mission is ambitious, but so are Texans. That's why we want as many people as possible engaging with Texas 2036. I hope you will become part of this conversation by texting JOINTX to 52886 and visiting our website. Over the course of the next year, we will be developing and releasing strategies and recommendations for how Texas can meet the demands of the future, and we need as many Texans as possible engaged in this critical effort.

Texas is a place of big dreams and endless possibilities. We have a storied past and a proud present. It's up to all of us to make sure the future is even better.

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Tom Luce is the founder of Texas 2036, an organization focused on bringing attention to issues that are going to affect the Lone Star State in the long term.