MSCs demonstrate promise against COVID-19—related respiratory distress

Written by Alexander Marshall

A preclinical trial from Cynata Therapeutics (Melbourne, Australia) has produced positive results for a mesenchymal stem cell product against COVID-19—related respiratory distress.

Clinical-stage biotechnology company Cynata Therapeutics (Melbourne, Australia) has published positive results from a preclinical trial utilizing Cymerusâ„¢ mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS can develop as a complication of infections such as COVID-19 and pneumonia, and is the leading cause of death associated with the conditions.

The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, was conducted in sheep and demonstrated that a 24-hour endobronchial infusion of Cymerus cells led to a significant reduction in lung injury. It was also determined that inflammation was reduced by measuring the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines released.

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MSCs are known to have an immune-regulatory role and many organizations are seeking to utilize the cells in preventing conditions such as ARDS. ARDS develops as a consequence of the prolonged activity of the immune system, while it tries to eliminate the viral threat, leading to severe lung damage. By utilizing MSCs, researchers hope to dampen the impact of the immune system and reduce the subsequent tissue damage.

Speaking to RegMedNet, Ross Macdonald, CEO of Cynata Therapeutics, explained “These new data provide further evidence supporting the potential clinical utility of Cynata’s Cymerus MSCs in ARDS. The empiric nature of drug development requires a rational basis for moving the balance of risk and benefit toward proceeding to use in humans. These data, combined with other data from prior preclinical studies together with clinical experience of our proprietary MSCs in graft-versus-host disease, provides such a rational basis.  If successful, one could anticipate moving to pivotal trials in ARDS and, subject to BLA approval, adoption of an MSC-based treatment in this challenging condition.”

While the study was encouraging, there was no significant difference in the level of oxygenation. The authors have attributed this to the severity of the lung injury induced in the animals. It was also noted that MSCs adhered to membranes within the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machinery that animals were connected to during treatment. While it is important to acknowledge this, patients are not normally placed on ECMO systems.

“We are very encouraged by the beneficial effects of Cymerus MSCs on a number of important, clinically-relevant endpoints in this model of ARDS,” commented Killian Kelly (Cynata Therapeutics). “It is also very useful to learn more about the practical mechanical challenges associated with administering MSCs at the same time as ECMO, but it is important to note that most patients with ARDS do not receive ECMO. Furthermore, in humans with ARDS who are not receiving ECMO, we expect to be able to administer repeated intravenous infusions of MSCs, which may have advantages compared to the approach that was taken in this preclinical study.”

Ross Macdonald sat down with RegMedNet earlier in the year to discuss the use of mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of ARDS in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sources: Millar J, Bartnikowski N, Passmore M et al. Combined Mesenchymal Stromal Cell Therapy and ECMO in ARDS: A Controlled Experimental Study in Sheep. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. doi:10.1164/rccm.202002-0328OC (2020) (Epub ahead of print);

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