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Column: Mark Berman, pusher of unproven stem cell therapies, dies while awaiting verdict in FDA lawsuit

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For years, California beauty surgeon Mark Berman was a pacesetter of that nook of the healthcare world pushing unproven and unapproved stem cell therapies for a number of medical circumstances.

Berman aired his claims for what he known as “magic cells” in a e-book, video appearances and thru a community of affiliated clinics across the nation. These claims caught the eye of the Meals and Drug Administration, which has been attempting to stamp out clinics claiming that stem cell injections can deal with illnesses and circumstances comparable to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism and even— most lately — COVID-19.

I can not condone exploitation of determined people who find themselves led to consider that they are going to be cured and even helped by a clinic or a tablet or any purported remedy that’s not based mostly in science.

— Jeanne Loring, Scripps Analysis Institute

A 2018 lawsuit the FDA filed towards Berman, his skilled accomplice Elliot Lander and their two stem cell companies is awaiting a verdict from U.S. District Decide Jesus Bernal in Riverside. Whichever approach it goes, Bernal’s ruling would set the stage for the subsequent section of the FDA’s marketing campaign towards stem cell clinics — both endorsing its place that the injection process quantities to administering unlawful medication or erecting an impediment to enforcement of its guidelines.

Berman died April 19, in response to his workplace. His dying hasn’t been publicly introduced. An electronic mail despatched final week to a affected person and signed by an workplace supervisor at Cell Surgical Community, which Berman co-founded with urologist Elliot Lander in 2012, said that he died after being hospitalized in early January.

Lander instructed me by electronic mail, “The household will launch all pertinent info in an obituary which has not been accomplished and revealed but.” Berman’s son, Sean, confirmed that an obit is being written.

Berman’s dying supplies us with a possibility to evaluation the FDA’s marketing campaign towards clinics purveying bogus stem cell therapies.

The company’s targets are clinics that depend on a way just like the one promoted by Berman and his colleagues at clinics branded because the California Stem Cell Therapy Heart in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills and at scores of clinics affiliated with the Cell Surgical Community. The therapy facilities have been co-founded by Berman and Lander in 2010.

The strategy begins with extracting fats from a buyer by way of liposuction. The fats is then refined to isolate what is named the “stromal vascular fraction,” or SVF, which Berman asserted is wealthy in stem cells. The SVF is then reinjected into the client.

Clients of greater than 1,000 clinics across the nation, a few of that are affiliated with the Cell Surgical Community, have been charged as a lot as a number of thousand {dollars} for such procedures, that are seldom, if ever, lined by medical health insurance.

In a 2015 e-book titled “The Stem Cell Revolution,” Berman and Lander asserted that their colleagues within the community have been treating “a variety of circumstances” comparable to Alzheimer’s, autism, cerebral palsy, a number of sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, stroke and traumatic mind damage.

Extra lately, Berman, Lander and different stem cell promoters have been implying that stem cells can be utilized to deal with COVID-19.

The FDA’s place on these claims is crystal clear. The company observes that there isn’t a scientifically validated proof for these therapy claims. The company has warned potential clients to avoid the claims’ promoters.

“Don’t consider the hype,” the company says on its web site. “Some unscrupulous suppliers supply stem cell merchandise which might be each unapproved and unproven,” in addition to “probably harmful.”

The FDA says it has not authorized stem cell therapies for any circumstances aside from uncommon blood system illnesses, for which it has authorized therapies utilizing blood-forming stem cells derived from umbilical wire blood. The company has particularly warned towards claims that stem cells can be utilized to deal with autism, macular degeneration, blindness, power ache, fatigue; neurological problems comparable to a number of sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; or cardiovascular or pulmonary illnesses.

The company additionally has warned towards claims, that are additionally unproven, that stem cells can be utilized for “the therapy or prevention of COVID-19, acute respiratory misery syndrome (ARDS), or some other complication associated to COVID-19.”

In sensible phrases, nevertheless, the FDA’s marketing campaign has not been going effectively. In 2017, the FDA closed a loophole that allowed the stem cell clinics to proceed pitching unproven, ineffective and probably hazardous stem cell therapies on to customers. The stem cells extracted from fats, the FDA dominated, have been medication underneath the regulation, which means that the clinics would should be licensed and subjected to inspection.

However the company unwisely gave clinics as much as three years to adjust to its new laws. Then it prolonged the deadline by six months due to the pandemic, so its interval of regulatory “forbearance” expired Could 31, 2021.

By then, a torrent of shady operations had poured into the sphere — so many who the duty of defending the general public from them could exceed the FDA’s capabilities. In line with a research by Leigh Turner of UC Irvine, by midyear 2021 there have been 1,480 companies working 2,754 clinics nationwide.

“That hardly looks like progress,” Turner instructed me final 12 months. “The issue the FDA faces is 4 instances bigger than what existed in 2016. The FDA solely has so many staff and so many inspectors. They don’t actually have sufficient inspectors to ship them to 1,480 companies.”

Earlier than his dying at age 69, Berman and his associates reportedly had been learning whether or not stem cells could possibly be used to deal with COVID. In testimony throughout the federal trial, Berman said that Cell Surgical Community was working with a Florida stem cell firm, American Cell Expertise, “to deal with COVID-19 sufferers” in accordance with a therapy protocol the community developed, as an FDA post-trial transient filed in June describe his statements from the witness field.

Sean Berman, Mark Berman’s son, who says he’s a advisor to ACT, instructed me that so far as he’s conscious, no sufferers have been handled for COVID in response to the protocol the FDA talked about.

Lander appeared to point, nevertheless, {that a} research of some kind had taken place. “No sufferers have been ever charged any charges in our Covid-19 research,” he instructed me by electronic mail.

Particulars about Berman’s dying haven’t been made public.

An individual who answered the telephone at California Stem Cell Therapy Heart instructed me that Berman died of “issues from Covid.”

Lander, nevertheless, instructed me: “Any one who represented themselves to be an agent of California Stem Cell over the telephone was neither educated sufficient, nor licensed, to debate Dr. Berman’s medical historical past.”

One affected person says Berman’s workers canceled a pre-op process in January, stating that Berman had COVID. The affected person, who doesn’t need to be recognized, says Berman’s workplace stored providing to reschedule the appointment, however finally the process didn’t happen.

The FDA has been taking a look at Berman’s operations at the very least since 2017. In two inspection experiences in July 2017, the company listed quite a few “objectionable circumstances” on the California Stem Cell Therapy Heart services in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills that it asserted have been in violation of regulatory requirements .

The experiences criticized sterilization procedures, coaching and record-keeping on the places. At Rancho Mirage, at the very least 4 “severe adversarial occasions” after stem cell procedures had not been investigated by the clinic or reported to the FDA as required, the company mentioned.

They included a affected person’s retinal detachment after the SVF was injected into the affected person’s eyes, hospitalization of one other affected person for “confusion and headache,” and two instances of an infection.

Berman and Lander wrote of their e-book that that they had discovered “extraordinary security and no severe adversarial results associated to SVF deployment.”

The FDA’s most decided assault on Berman got here within the lawsuit filed in Riverside federal court docket in Could 2018, aimed basically at forcing him and his services to stop treating sufferers with the fats extractions. The lawsuit was largely an identical to 1 the company filed the identical day towards U.S. Stem Cell, a Florida clinic operator, in Miami federal court docket.

Each units of plaintiffs mounted related defenses — mainly that they have been merely treating sufferers with their very own tissues, so their merchandise fell exterior the FDA definition of a drug and thus have been exempt from the company’s jurisdiction. The FDA disagreed. The extracted tissues have been so totally manipulated earlier than reinjection, the company argued, that they have been correctly outlined as a drug and didn’t qualify for the exemption.

The 2 lawsuits have adopted divergent paths. In Miami, District Decide Ursula Ungaro agreed with the FDA in a serious victory for the company’s marketing campaign towards stem cell clinics.

Ungaro held in June 2019 that the SVF was certainly a drug and subsequently used illegally. She additional noticed that U.S. Stem Cell’s procedures “contain the next threat of communicable illness and different security issues and are subsequently topic to FDA regulation.” Her resolution siding with the company by way of abstract judgment — that’s, with out trial — successfully shut down U.S. Stem Cell’s clinic.

Ungaro’s ruling was upheld in June by the U.S. eleventh Circuit Court docket of Appeals in Atlanta.

In Riverside, nevertheless, Bernal denied the FDA’s movement for abstract judgment. As an alternative, he held a seven-day trial in Could 2021. Submit-trial briefs by either side have been submitted in August, however Bernal has but to problem a verdict. There are not any indications of when he may rule.

Berman’s dying gained’t require Bernal to droop his deliberations, as there are nonetheless three different defendants — Lander, California Stem Cell Therapy Heart and Cell Surgical Community.

The FDA, in its post-trial transient in June, correctly raised the alarm that the defendants may be aiming their pitch at victims of COVID-19, regardless of the dearth of proof that stem cells are efficient in treating the illness. Why ought to that be a shock? The sector of stem cell clinics has been feeding on the desperation of sick folks nearly since its inception.

“Has a physician ever instructed you ‘there’s nothing we will do?’” Berman and Lander wrote of their e-book. “We sincerely hope you gained’t settle for that as the ultimate reply.” The FDA’s response has been, in impact: Beware, as a result of they don’t have the reply both.

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John Visentin, Xerox C.E.O., Dies at 59

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John Visentin, the chief government of Xerox who led the photocopying and know-how firm by way of a tumultuous pandemic at a time when demand for printed paperwork and ink waned, died on Tuesday. He was 59.

Mr. Visentin, who grew to become C.E.O. in Could 2018 and was additionally the vice chairman, died of “issues from an ongoing sickness,” the corporate mentioned in an announcement. A spokesman for Xerox didn’t share particulars about that sickness or say whether or not Mr. Visentin informed the corporate about it.

Steve Bandrowczak, the president and chief working officer at Xerox, will function its interim C.E.O., the corporate mentioned.

“John’s imaginative and prescient was clear, and the Xerox crew will proceed fulfilling it — not solely to ship on our commitments to our shareholders, clients and companions, but in addition to pursue John’s legacy,” Mr. Bandrowczak mentioned in an announcement.

Earlier than occupying the highest place at Xerox, Mr. Visentin was steeped on this planet of know-how and enterprise: He labored as an adviser to the chairman at Exela Applied sciences, an automation firm, and was an working companion for Introduction Worldwide, a personal fairness agency.

After becoming a member of Xerox, Mr. Visentin sought to broaden the corporate’s choices. For years, Xerox had been referred to as a hub for workplace know-how, particularly its xerographic copier, or Xerox machine — a ubiquitous, cumbersome product that commercialized the method of creating photographic copies onto paper.

Mr. Visentin turned extra consideration “to digital and I.T. providers, monetary providers and disruptive applied sciences,” James Nelson, the chairman of Xerox’s board of administrators, mentioned in an announcement.

Below Mr. Visentin’s helm, the corporate additionally tried to make inroads in 3-D printing.

His choice as C.E.O. in 2018 was preceded by Xerox’s calling off its merger take care of Fujifilm of Japan after reaching a settlement with a shareholder activist and one other main investor who sharply opposed the deal.

In November 2019, Xerox made a takeover provide to HP, a enterprise synonymous with printers, in an effort to mix the 2 firms and reduce prices.

The merger was supported by Mr. Visentin, who appeared to consider that the trade wanted some form of consolidation as a way to appease shareholders involved in regards to the accelerating erosion of the normal printing enterprise.

The deal deteriorated after HP discovered that the cash-and-stock provide from Xerox undervalued the corporate. Later that month, it formally turned down the takeover provide, dealing a blow to Mr. Visentin’s enterprise plans.

A graduate of Concordia College in Montreal, Mr. Visentin started his profession at IBM, in accordance with his LinkedIn profile. He labored there for greater than 20 years after which moved to HP. From 2013 to 2017, he was the chief government of Novitex Enterprise Options, his firm biography states.

Xerox described Mr. Visentin in its assertion as a frontrunner “who navigated the corporate by way of unprecedented occasions and challenges.”

He’s survived by his spouse and 5 daughters.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.

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Spirit Airlines calls off a Thursday reckoning on Frontier’s bid.

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On the eve of a deliberate shareholder assembly on an acquisition by Frontier Airways, Spirit Airways stated Wednesday night that it was pushing aside the vote and would proceed to speak to each Frontier and a rival suitor, JetBlue.

The postponement, till July 8, was a shocking flip in a battle that analysts say may reshape the airline sector. The choice is a blow to the leaders of Frontier and Spirit, funds carriers that need to mix to allow them to extra successfully compete with the nation’s 4 dominant airways.

The Frontier stock-and-cash proposal values Spirit at roughly $2.4 billion, whereas JetBlue’s all-cash provide totals about $3.6 billion. There are additionally competing carrots to traders, like how a lot the rivals would pay shareholders if regulators blocked the deal — $350 million within the case of Spirit and $400 million within the case of JetBlue.

“This says each marriage proposals are engaging,” stated Samuel Engel, a senior vp and airline trade analyst at ICF, a consulting agency. “They need to see what the utmost dowry is that they will get.”

Frontier didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon Spirit’s announcement.

JetBlue’s chief govt, Robin Hayes, celebrated the postponement, the second time that Spirit has pushed off a shareholder vote on the transaction. “It’s clear that Spirit shareholders have now handed the Spirit board an simple mandate to succeed in an settlement with JetBlue,” Mr. Hayes stated in an announcement.

Frontier argues that regardless of its provide’s decrease nominal worth, the share portion permits Spirit traders to additional profit ought to shares of the mixed firm climb. It has additionally attacked JetBlue’s bid as much less prone to win regulatory approval. JetBlue contends that each bids are prone to be scrutinized.

Nonetheless, Frontier’s provide would additionally face a troublesome look from the Biden administration, which has taken a skeptical view of enormous company mergers. The variety of massive airways has drastically declined over the previous 20 years as carriers have merged, and clients are at present upset with airways as they deal with mass flight cancellations.

Shares of Spirit had been up 2.2 %, to $22.90, in after-hours buying and selling on Wednesday however nonetheless properly beneath the $33.50 that JetBlue has provided.

Spirit and Frontier introduced a proposal to merge in February. Weeks later, JetBlue countered with its provide. What adopted had been rounds of one-upmanship and, at occasions, bitter phrases. Spirit dismissed JetBlue’s provide as a “cynical try” to disrupt its merger with Frontier, whereas JetBlue took purpose at Spirit’s board, arguing that its ties with Frontier inhibited its objectivity in evaluating the deal.

Frontier’s chief govt, Barry Biffle, was a high Spirit govt from 2005 to 2013. William A. Franke, the chairman of Frontier, can also be a managing companion of Indigo Companions. the non-public fairness agency that when owned each corporations. He’s anticipated to go the board if the Frontier-Spirit deal is authorized. Frontier, which is now public, stays majority owned by Indigo.

Final week, the influential advisory agency Institutional Shareholder Providers beneficial that Spirit shareholders vote in favor of Frontier’s bid, a reversal from a previous advice based mostly on a revised provide from Frontier. On Tuesday, JetBlue put ahead one more sweetened provide.

Mixed, Frontier and Spirit would turn out to be the fifth-largest U.S. airline, with an 8.2 % share of the market, placing it behind American, Southwest, Delta and United.

“If our shareholders don’t approve the Frontier deal, we’re again to a stand-alone,” Spirit’s chief govt, Ted Christie, stated this week in an interview with The New York Occasions. “We’ve got made clear the problems that we have now with the JetBlue transaction.”

Spirit’s main grievance concerning the JetBlue bid is that it could not safe regulatory approval, significantly given the antitrust scrutiny that JetBlue has garnered from the Justice Division over its alliance with American Airways. The company stated in a lawsuit that American, the most important U.S. service, would use the partnership to “co-opt a uniquely disruptive competitor.” JetBlue and American deny that their deal is anticompetitive and are combating the case in courtroom.

Frontier and Spirit contend that with price financial savings and a bigger community, their mixed service would be capable of compete for extra clients whereas nonetheless providing very low fares, pressuring bigger rivals to carry down their fares, too.

One argument towards a merger is that continued competitors between Frontier and Spirit would power them to maintain fares low. With a merger, a few of that strain could be relieved, which could cause them to increase not solely fares but additionally charges — significantly on routes serving airports the place each now function, like Orlando, Fla.

Any acquisition of Spirit must cross muster with federal regulators. One purpose that they could oppose a merger of Spirit and Frontier is that forcing the businesses to stay rivals would push them to maintain fares low.

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Column: The big contributors to inflation you’re not hearing about: profiteering corporations

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Right here’s an inflation treatment you’re not listening to a lot about: Cut back company earnings.

If that seems like a drastic, even radical thought, the rationale could also be that financial commentators and information pundits have been fixated on the position of upper wages in driving inflation larger.

As I reported lately, an argument is even being aired that the answer to inflation is to drive the unemployment charge larger.

Company markups are actual. Bringing them down can be useful to the financial system.

— Mike Konczal, Roosevelt Institute

What’s inquisitive about that concept is that financial statistics clarify that company earnings have performed a a lot bigger position in fueling inflation than wage will increase or the at the moment low unemployment charge.

Wages have crept larger over the past 12 months, however the will increase have trailed inflation, which is why so many employees and their households are feeling the sting of upper costs. Company revenue margins, nevertheless, have rocketed into the stratosphere, outpacing the inflation charge and pulling it larger.

“Markups and earnings skyrocketed in 2021 to their highest recorded stage for the reason that Fifties,” Mike Konczal and Niko Lusiani of the Roosevelt Institute reported in a brand new paper. “Additional, corporations within the US elevated their markups and earnings in 2021 on the quickest annual tempo since 1955.”

Regardless of that, worker-bashing stays the prevailing theme amongst inflation watchers. The newest instance comes from the Wall Avenue Journal, which on Monday revealed an interview between its senior markets columnist, James Waterproof coat, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, an eminent inflation Cassandra.

In the middle of what seems like a toothsome “late-afternoon dish of cured salmon at a London lodge” (don’t ask why Waterproof coat felt compelled to reveal the menu), they appeared to agree that “newly empowered employees” had been amongst “the most important forces pushing for larger long-term [interest] charges,” in Waterproof coat’s phrases.

The upper charges are “wanted to maintain costs underneath management,” Waterproof coat defined to his readers. “Labor unions have fashioned in beforehand unassailable locations, together with websites of Amazon, Apple and Starbucks…. Stronger unions make for a extra inflationary surroundings.”

Just a few issues about that. First, if Waterproof coat has proof that stronger unions trigger inflation, he ought to present his work, as a result of generally phrases there’s no proof to help the premise. Quite, there’s proof on the contrary.

Within the Fifties, when as many as one-third of U.S. nonfarm employees had been union members, annual inflation averaged about 2%. Within the Twenties, one other heyday for union membership, costs truly decreased; worth spikes related to the U.S. entry into World Battle I had been performed out by 1920).

The present spurt of excessive inflation, because it occurs, has erupted whereas union membership within the non-public sector reached a dismal 6.1% in 2021. The variety of rank-and-file employees represented by a union fell final 12 months to fifteen.8 million, down by 137,000 from 2020.

The strikes and organizing actions which were broadly reported are encouraging indicators for unionization, however nonetheless modest within the context of the general decline of organized labor.

As for Amazon, Apple and Starbucks, which bought a shout-out from Waterproof coat, there are not any indicators that these firms are feeling any pinch from labor organizing exercise, regardless that Amazon and Starbucks have carried out ferocious union-busting campaigns. Earlier this month, Apple workers in Towson, Md., gained the primary unionization vote at any of the corporate’s retail shops.

Amazon’s revenue margin final 12 months was 7.1%, up from 5.53% in 2020 and 4.14% in 2019. The margin at Starbucks was 14.4% in its final fiscal 12 months, which ended Oct. 3. The corporate introduced plans to return $20 billion to shareholders through dividends and inventory buybacks over the succeeding three years.

Apple has had a collection of blowout outcomes, together with revenue margins of higher than 25% in its final full fiscal 12 months, which ended Sept. 25, and its subsequent two quarters, by March 26.

In April, the corporate stated it might improve its payouts to shareholders through a 5% improve in its dividend to 23 cents per share and a rise of $90 billion in its current inventory buyback program.

The story, briefly, is: Don’t weep for these firms as a result of they face unionization drives.

The larger story is that the growth of company revenue margins has far outpaced wage beneficial properties over the past two years, together with the interval of surging inflation. From the primary quarter of 2020 by the top of 2021, company labor prices elevated by about 7%, however company after-tax earnings by almost 14%, in line with the Bureau of Financial Evaluation.

Konczal and Lusiani discovered that whereas common company markups, a good proxy for earnings, averaged about 26% above marginal prices from 1960 by 1980 and about 56% throughout the 2010s, they shot as much as 72% in 2021.

“In different phrases,” they wrote, “in 2021, we see a pointy improve in … corporations within the combination decoupling their costs from their underlying prices.”

Greater markups “don’t essentially need to translate to larger earnings,” they added, “however they did in 2021.” Internet revenue margins, or earnings divided by revenues, averaged 6% throughout the 2010s; in 2021 the determine jumped to 9.5%, “its highest worth on report.”

The authors acknowledge that the development might have moderated in the previous couple of months. “However company markups are actual,” Konczal, the Roosevelt Institute’s director of macroeconomic evaluation, informed me.

“Bringing them down can be useful to the financial system,” he says, “particularly in the event you don’t suppose that earnings will essentially go to extra funding however merely be paid out as bonuses to shareholders and managers.”

Companies actually face real inflationary pressures. Essentially the most important are associated to the worth of oil, both immediately within the worth of gas or not directly by costs for supplies pushed up themselves by larger power costs. Provide chain constrictions have additionally contributed to larger costs for elements and uncooked supplies.

However the larger revenue margins point out that companies are elevating costs greater than can be essential to cowl their very own larger prices.

At this level, companies might sense they’ve the latitude to boost costs partially as a result of shoppers anticipate it, given the relentless reporting of inflation fears. (That is a technique that inflation tends to feed on itself.)

But it’s attainable that company earnings will come down by a confluence of pure elements. Companies may resolve to soak up some wage will increase and different prices, reminiscent of gas, with out passing all of them on to shoppers and tacking on further vigorish.

There are indicators that a few of that could be occurring: Retailers are making ready to chop costs to maneuver outdated or extra merchandise out of warehouses and off the store ground. Some client firms might sense higher resistance from clients if costs proceed to stay at excessive ranges, significantly in the event that they see rivals undercutting them.

However so long as the narrative in regards to the causes of inflation stays targeted on wages and employment, policymakers might make the flawed decisions about the way to deliver it down. “There’s room for these margins to return down,” Konczal says. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell “doesn’t a lot discuss company earnings and the power of these margins and markups to say no and assist take among the strain off.”

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