Tech

Google bans ads for unproven medical treatments

Key Points
  • Google on Friday announces a new health-care and medicines policy that bans advertising for "unproven or experimental medical techniques," which it says includes stem cell, cellular and gene therapies.
  • The company says it has seen a rise in bad actors attempting to take advantage of people "by offering untested, deceptive treatments."
  • The company says it will continue to allow advertising for research for clinical trials and for clinicians to promote research findings to the public.
A placenta being prepared for stem cell collection.
Photo courtesy Dave Kotinsky, Getty Images for Celularity

Google on Friday announced a new health care and medicines policy that bans advertising for "unproven or experimental medical techniques," which it says includes most stem cell, cellular and gene therapies.

A blog post from Google policy advisor Adrienne Biddings said the company will prohibit ads selling treatments "that have no established biomedical or scientific basis." It will also extend the policy to treatments that are rooted in scientific findings and preliminary clinical experience "but currently have insufficient formal clinical testing to justify widespread clinical use." The change was first reported by The Washington Post.

The new Google ads policy may put the heat on for the stem cell clinic industry, which has until recently been largely unregulated and has some players who have been accused of taking advantage of seriously ill patients, The Washington Post reported.

"We know that important medical discoveries often start as unproven ideas — and we believe that monitored, regulated clinical trials are the most reliable way to test and prove important medical advances," Biddings said. "At the same time, we have seen a rise in bad actors attempting to take advantage of individuals by offering untested, deceptive treatments. Often times, these treatments can lead to dangerous health outcomes and we feel they have no place on our platforms."

The Google post included a quote from the president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, Deepak Srivastava, who said the new policy is a "much-needed and welcome step to curb the marketing of unscrupulous medical products such as unproven stem cell therapies."

"While stem cells have great potential to help us understand and treat a wide range of diseases, most stem cell interventions remain experimental and should only be offered to patients through well-regulated clinical trials," he said. "The premature marketing and commercialization of unproven stem cell products threatens public health, their confidence in biomedical research, and undermines the development of legitimate new therapies."

The company said it will continue to allow advertising for research for clinical trials and for clinicians to promote research findings to the public. Google said as new findings are released and regulatory bodies oversee developments, the company will continue to update its policies as needed.

In a statement, the president of the American Medical Association, Patrice Harris, said the group is concerned that advertising treatments without established biomedical or scientific basis can promote misinformation "that provides false hope, undermines proper care and encourages ill-informed medical decisions."

"The American Medical Association believes it is critical to distinguish between treatments that have been validated by appropriate scientific study, those that are promising, and those that are without foundation," she said. "The AMA is pleased to see that Google appreciates the seriousness of this issue, and we urge them to make public the process they use to vet advertisements and what evidentiary standard they use for determining which treatments are appropriate to advertise."

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