More than a year after the onset of the global pandemic, the COVID-19 virus is still affecting the lives of people all around the world. While more is known about the illness today compared to 12 months ago, there is still no known cure. The start of the pandemic generated a flurry of clinical trials, many of which involved the use of cell therapies as viable options for treatment.
Cell therapy is the process of replacing damaged or dysfunctional cells with new, healthy ones by transferring live cells into a patient. These can be autologous (also known as self-to-self, using cells directly from the patient receiving the treatment) or allogeneic (using cells from a donor). This branch of regenerative medicine has been used for decades to treat cancers and other illnesses with some success. This past success has inspired scientists to test the viability of various cell therapies to treat the COVID-19 virus.
Here is an overview of a few of the most prominent ones.
Convalescent Plasma Therapy
Convalescent plasma therapy uses the blood of patients who have recovered from an illness to help those with new infections recover. Cell therapy companies such as ImmuneCyte draw the donor patient’s blood, process it to separate the plasma and Immune cells to prepare them for clinical use. In August 2020, the FDA issued an emergency approval of convalescent plasma to treat patients with COVID-19. The blood of recovered patients has antibodies and a developed immunity from successfully fighting the virus. Thus, it can be transfused into newly infected patients to help recover from the virus by lessening the severity or shortening the length of the disease. The goal of this allogeneic cell therapy approach is to suppress the virus and modify the inflammatory response.
Immunotherapy is treatment that uses parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases. This can take the form of stimulating natural effects of a patient’s immune system so that it works harder and smarter to attack cancerous cells. In the last few decades, immunotherapy has played an important role in the treatment of some cancers with some success, leading medical professionals to ask themselves if this could be a viable treatment option for infectious diseases. Specifically, Natural Killer (NK) cells are being used in clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19. NK cells are lymphocytes in the same family as T and B cells, coming from a common progenitor, which are cells descendant of stem cells that can further differentiate to create specialized cell types.
Scientists have discovered that NK cells become depleted in COVID-19 positive patients, and believe that their reintroduction may be part of the solution. NK cells can clear virus-infected cells through antibody-dependent cytotoxicity, which is a process that scientists in clinical trials hope to enhance. In August of 2020, the first COVID-19 patient received an infusion, and the therapy is still in its initial phase of trial.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent adult stem cells present in multiple tissues, including umbilical cord, bone marrow and fat tissue. They have the ability to self-renew by dividing and can differentiate into various tissues. Recent data from a small trial suggests that infusion of MSCs reduces the risk of death and accelerates recovery for the most severe COVID-19 cases, with a patient survival rate of 91 percent after one month. Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to modulate the immune system response and have an antimicrobial effect that can promote tissue regeneration. They are thought to be really effective in the treatment of COVID-19 because they naturally migrate to the lungs (the location of the inflammation in the sickest patients) when administered intravenously, or directly into a patient’s veins. The results of this trial signals the viability of this stem cell therapy as a treatment for patients infected with the deadly virus.
ThermoGenesis Holdings Inc. (formerly Cesca Therapeutics Inc.), is a pioneer and market leader in the development and commercialization of automated cell processing technologies for the cell and gene therapy fields. We market a full suite of solutions for automated clinical biobanking, COVID-19 testing, point-of-care applications and large-scale cell processing and manufacturing with a special emphasis on the emerging CAR-T immunotherapy market. We are committed to making the world a healthier place by creating innovative solutions for those in need.
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