Swiss regulators get tough on illegal fresh cell therapy

The Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic) and the Federal Office of Public Health are investigating the unauthorised use of cell therapy Keystone

Swiss authorities say they have opened a criminal case against several unidentified health clinics and providers as part of a broader crackdown on hospitals and private clinics that illegally treat patients using unauthorised fresh cell therapy.

This content was published on March 26, 2015 - 11:53 and agencies

The Swiss-based therapy – first popularised with famous clients such as Pope Pius XII and Charlie Chaplin –  was developed around 1930 by Swiss doctor Paul Niehans, who harvested cells from cows, oxen and other animals and injected them into a patient’s buttocks.

But the Federal Health OfficeExternal link and the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (SwissmedicExternal link) warned Thursday that such therapy is not scientifically proven and the products are unauthorised because they “represent a significant risk to health.”

The therapy, which the agencies said is popular with tourists from China, Russia and the Middle East, has been offered as treatment for “anti-aging”, migraine headaches, chronic diseases and cancer.

“Recently, various hospitals and private Swiss clinics have been offering illegal fresh cell therapies potentially dangerous to health,” the agencies said in a joint statement. “These therapies involve injecting cells or cell extracts taken from sheep foetuses or placentae, promising to rejuvenate the patient.”

The agencies disclosed that they worked with cantonal authorities last year to compile an inventory of places that offer the therapy and that Swissmedic opened a criminal case against several clinics and people. Their identities were not made public.

Federal authorities say they warned the health care clinics and other providers of the risks of the  therapy, which include allergies, abscesses caused by injections, and transmission of pathogens from animals to the patient.

“All of the clinics, doctors' offices and medical personnel who produced, imported, distributed and used unauthorised preparations were asked to stop these activities or seek immediate authorisation,” the agencies said.

“This intervention aims to prevent the production or use of illegal preparations for use in fresh cell therapy in Switzerland,” the authorities said, adding that their primary intention is to protect the health of foreign patients.

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