© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Stem cell-based therapy is currently tested in several trials of chronic heart failure. The main question is to determine how its implementation could be extended to common clinical practice. To fill this gap, it is critical to first validate the hypothesis that the grafted stem cells primarily act by harnessing endogenous repair pathways. The confirmation of this mechanism would have three major clinically relevant consequences: (i) the use of cardiac-committed cells, since even though cells primarily act in a paracrine manner, such a phenotype seems the most functionally effective; (ii) the optimization of early cell retention, rather than of sustained cell survival, so that the cells reside in the target tissue long enough to deliver the factors underpinning their action; and (iii) the reliance on allogeneic cells, the expected rejection of which should only have to be delayed since a permanent engraftment would no longer be the objective. One step further, the long-term objective of cell therapy could be to use the cells exclusively for producing factors and then to only administer them to the patient. The production process would then be closer to that of a biological pharmaceutic, thereby facilitating an extended clinical use.