Stem Cell Cures or 21st Century Snake Oil? Part 1

Four years after “60 Minutes” labeled him a “21st century snake oil” salesman, a former La Mesa shopkeeper has been sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

Lawrence Stowe of La Mesa’s former Stowe Biotherapy as seen in “60 Minutes” segment. Image via YouTube

Lawrence “Larry” Stowe, who operated Stowe Biotherapy in downtown La Mesa for about five years, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell misbranded and unapproved drugs that he called cures for a variety of incurable diseases, according to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson in Houston.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller sentenced Stowe, 61, to a total sentence of 78 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Stowe had pleaded guilty Sept. 7, 2012.

In handing down the sentence Friday, Miller stressed that Stowe “took advantage of people dying and offered them hope.”

Stowe admitted that beginning in January 2006, he used several businesses, including Stowe BioTherapy Inc. on La Mesa Boulevard, to promote a medical treatment protocol for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

This treatment protocol, which was named Applied Biologics, consisted of supplements, vaccines, patient specific transfer factors and ultimately stem cell therapy.

Magidson said Stowe falsely represented to patients that this treatment protocol had been reviewed by all levels of the FDA and was effective in the treatment of ALS, MS and Parkinson’s. But these ailments have no cure.

At the hearing, testimony was presented by a sister of a victim in the scheme detailing how she cared for her brother in the last year of his life when he met Stowe and paid him $47,000 with the false hope of a cure. She said her brother did not have much cash, so the $47,000 was all his savings.

Her brother was preyed upon and never helped medically by Stowe, she said.

“Preying on those who are among our most vulnerable consumers—those who are without hope of a cure for their conditions—is illegal and just plain wrong,” said Hennesy. “The FDA helps protect the public health, and we will move firmly against those who attempt to profit from the sale of false hope and fraudulent health products.”

Stowe entered a plea of guilty to conspiring with Morales and others to introduce supplements, vaccines and stem cells that were not approved by the FDA, as well as introducing a misbranded and unapproved new drug called Immune Factor G-40 into interstate commerce, which had not been reviewed or approved by the FDA for human use.

Stowe further admitted that one of the unapproved drug products was a product called patient specific transfer factors. In order to produce this product, he obtained the services of a pathologist in Bryan/College Station, Texas.

He then directed patients to send samples of their blood to the pathologist for the purpose of growing bacteria that would later be used to create the patient specific transfer factors. Stowe hired a laboratory in South Carolina to receive the bacteria which was then fed to chickens.

The eggs produced by these chickens were later freeze dried, and the powder from the eggs were placed in capsules and sold to patients. Stowe admitted he knew the manufacturing process and the product itself was not approved by the FDA for that treatment of human diseases.

This case was presented on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” in January 2010.

Previously released on bond, Stowe was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The cases were investigated by the FDA and the FBI with assistance from Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Former Assistant United States Attorney Samuel Louis and Assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric L. Joubert prosecuted the case with assistance of Carol Wallack with the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.

In 2011, La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid told La Mesa Patch that after the “60 Minutes broadcast” of April 18, 2010, he had “extensive discussions” with the executive producer of the program at his New York office.

“I was unable to talk with [correspondent] Scott [Pelley] because he went on vacation immediately after the show aired,” Madrid said.

Mary England, president and CEO of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying Stowe was not a member of her group and heard nothing about his local operation, adding: “We never received a complaint regarding their business.”

Stowe BioTherapy was a member of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association and operated here for “maybe five years,” a director told Patch.

The director, Deena While, said: “It was all a very sad, greedy, inhumane activity brought to light. A shock to see what type of business was housed there—that old saying, ‘You never really know your neighbor, do you?’ Thanks to the reporting crew of 60 Minutes, Dr. Stowe ‘got out of Dodge’ pretty quickly after the airing of this episode.”

— A U.S. Attorney’s Office news release contributed to this report.