Limitations of early data on mesenchymal stromal cells in ARDS due to COVID-19 prompt expert caution; patient heterogeneity a factor in upcoming studies

15 Apr 2020

While COVID-19 data from a China-based study and Pluristem Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ:PSTI) compassionate use program focused on those with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is encouraging to continue exploring mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) products, there are also several limitations with interpreting the results, experts noted. Readthrough to trials being planned by three main MSC players—Athersys (NASDAQ:ATHX), Mesoblast (ASX:MSB) and Pluristem—is unclear without more granular data and trial design details, they noted.

Results thus far are based on only a few patients, and there was a lack of uniformity in terms of treatment protocols, experts noted. Additionally, several large, randomized ARDS and/or MSC trials have failed in the past despite early successes, they added in explaining their caution.

MSCs’ inherent potential to spur tissue regeneration to potentially address the damage caused by ARDS commonly observed in COVID-19 has seen cell therapy companies like Mesoblast and Pluristem reorient their focus to address the pandemic or players like Athersys accelerate its plans to evaluate its therapy in a large study. The potential for cell therapies came under more of a public spotlight after Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump, touted Warren, New Jersey-based Celularity’s natural killer (NK) cell approach, which one interviewed expert said could become a parallel mode of action, as NK cell therapies target the host immune response to the virus while MSCs can address the host tissue damage among other functions. Athersys’ product MultiStem is derived from multipotent adult progenitor cells, while Mesoblast’s remestemcel-L comprises culture-expanded mesenchymal stem cells. Pluristem’s PLX cells are described as mesenchymal-like stem cells.

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