Embryonic Stem Cell Research Foe, Tracy Deisher, Seeks to Market Pro-Life Vaccines

10/1/10Follow @xconomy

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their parents have religious or moral objections.

So the company’s plan is to make new vaccines that are produced without any fetal cell lines, not just for the 400,000 that morally object, but for others who take existing vaccines but would prefer to take those not derived from fetal cells.

“As a pediatrician, if you object morally to the current vaccine, you have no choice,” Deisher says.

Of course, no bootstrapped biotech like AVM has the wherewithal to finance and conduct clinical trials of a new vaccine. Instead, AVM is hoping to obtain commercial rights to a measles/mumps/rubella vaccines derived from animal cell lines that Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, has taken off the market. That vaccine is already cleared for sale by the FDA, it just isn’t currently being marketed by Merck, Deisher says. Vaccine makers have been shifting toward vaccines derived from fetal cells because they thought they would be slightly cheaper to produce, and that’s important for low-margin commodity products, she says. “The primary driver was economic,” she says.

If AVM can get ahold of this license, it would have something it could market to the many parents who choose not to vaccinate their children on religious grounds. AVM, on its website, says it “will provide commercial vaccines produced using morally acceptable cell sources and methods. We hope to be an answer to these parents’ prayers.”

While the for-profit venture hasn’t yet secured such a commercial asset, Deisher’s nonprofit venture has found better fortune. The Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, which was registered in Washington as a nonprofit the same day as AVM was formed and is located in the same office, picked up a two-year $500,000 grant earlier this year from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, a Vancouver, WA-based foundation that supports faith-based initiatives. The Murdock grant is set aside to perform research that looks for a connection between traces of human DNA in childhood vaccines and autism.

Deisher, who announced the Murdock grant in a newsletter in April, said she was “thrilled” to get the new funding. “Shouldn’t we determine whether injecting residual human fetal DNA into our children is safe, or not?” she wrote. She added: “The grant is a major step forward for Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, however, we are left with a funding gap. Please consider joining the Trust to help fund this critical research.”

The effort, based on Deisher’s July newsletter, appears to be struggling to gain momentum. The nonprofit institute has seven employees, and has sought to put them to work with basic equipment like a centrifuge, a biologic safety hood, pH meters, and incubators, Deisher wrote. After paying rent and buying lab supplies, “we have $25,000 for our employees, before mandatory taxes. We can’t retain our scientific talent with these wages,” Deisher wrote.

But research isn’t the only activity at the nonprofit institute. Deisher hopes to hire a marketing person to help with a program that will label various pharmaceuticals as “Pro-Life Produced” or “Pro-Life Approved.” This would be a certification label, like organic produce, that says whether or not a pharmaceutical or vaccine was developed using any human fetal DNA or proteins. There’s a need for certification, the nonprofit says, because 10 vaccines and three biotech drugs were produced in the U.S. with aborted human fetal cell lines. About 85 additional biotech drugs produced in this manner are “coming soon,” according to the institute.

Deisher has certainly made her share of enemies in the stem cell research field through her legal case, and any widespread effort to challenge the ethical basis of new biotech drugs is sure to run into well-financed opposition. A couple of scientists I sought comment from about Deisher politely declined to say anything on the record. Deisher didn’t have anything to say about her critics, either, but she made clear that she believes very strongly in what she’s doing, and gives no hint of backing down.

“This is a country founded on respect for the morals of others,” Deisher says. “Parents and pediatricians who object to existing vaccines should have another choice.”

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