August 14, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Cell therapy trials for COVID-19 accelerate & some early reports

Could various kinds of cell therapy help patients with COVID-19?

A variety of cell therapies, mostly focused on mesenchymal stromal/stem cells (MSCs), have gotten cleared quickly in the U.S., China, and Israel and possibly other countries to be tested in patients with the novel coronavirus. I hope at least one proves helpful. It’s mostly a long shot, but some investigational products seem relatively speaking more promising than others.

Here are some of the main developments as of April 13, 2020. I will likely update this post with more firms and products. April 14th update: Here’s a very helpful cell therapy/COVID resource page from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM) that I highly recommend.

MultiStem Athersys cell therapy COVID 19
MultiStem from Athersys, a cell therapy being tested for COVID 19.

Athersys and MultiStem.

To my knowledge Athersys is the only cell therapy company to already have previous trial data relevant to COVID-19 so I put them first here. These data are from its past work on ARDS. For more on the Athersys approach see here. Their MultiStem product is bone marrow-derived but is not MSCs.

You can read my 2013 interview with CEO Gil Van Bokkelen here, which is interesting from a cell therapy field historical perspective as well.

Mesoblast and MSCs product remestemcel-L

Mesoblast’s MSC product remestemcel-L, more well-known for use with GvHD, has been green-lighted to be tested on COVID-19. For more on the Mesoblast approach see here.

Cynata and IPSC-derived MSC product Cymerus

Cynata is upbeat about testing its Cymerus MSC product for ARDS in COVID-19 patients in Australia.

CEO Ross Macdonald, “was quick to point out that what differentiates Cynata’s stem cell product from competitors is that its MSCs are derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and most stem cell companies rely on multiple donors to donate either bone marrow or adipose tissue as their primary tissue sources. From those sources they derive a small number of MSCs, which represent the starting material of their manufacturing process.”

Pluristem and placental stem cells

Israeli COVID-19 treatment shows 100% survival rate – preliminary data. Pluristem says some patients improved, but there were no controls. From the news article, “Six critically ill coronavirus patients in Israel who are considered high-risk for mortality have been treated with Pluristem’s placenta-based cell-therapy product and survived, according to preliminary data provided by the Haifa-based company.”

Here’s a newer news story out of New Jersey about a trial participant there. One passage says, “The cells, drawn from a human placenta, will hopefully aid the man’s immune response and could potentially also heal tissue damage to his lungs, said Drs. Ravit Barkama and Thomas Birch, who are clinical researchers at the hospital.”

Hope Biosciences and adipose MSCs

There are more MSC type cell therapy trials to move ahead including this one in Texas. FDA approves lab in Sugar Land to begin stem cell trial for COVID-19.  From the news article, “A Sugar Land-based stem cell lab has been given approval by the FDA to study whether stem cells can be used to treat COVID-19 symptoms…The stem cell treatment could boost the immune systems of pre-symptom and high-risk patients, according to Hope Biosciences CEO Donna Chang. For example, elderly patients with pre-existing conditions who live in a nursing home could be given stem cell treatments.”

Celularity and placental NK cells

Their natural killer cell approach, originally designed to be tested on cancer patients, has received FDA clearance fora  trial after being plugged by Rudy Giuliani. I’ve covered this odd situation here on The Niche. You might also find this The Scientist article useful. Beyond hoping for efficacy, this one in my view poses somewhat more risk than the stem cell ones so first of all I’m hoping they see safety.

Looking ahead

There are quite a few others out there in the cell therapy universe as well including many in China. Then there are also unproven stem cell clinic firms jumping in the mix too.

Disclosure: I have no financial interest in any of these companies or their competitors. 

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