Ohio company to test stem cell treatment for coronavirus patients

An Ohio company is working on a new stem cell treatment to save the lives of coronavirus patients.

The CEO of the Cleveland-based biotech company Athersys, Inc., touted on Wednesday his company’s therapy for treating Acute Respiratory Disease Syndrome (ARDS), the condition that most often kills COVID-19 patients, Fox News reported. The executive told Fox’s Ed Henry that his company has completed a study on the treatment that suggests it is effective in reducing mortality, the network noted.

Coronavirus breakthrough?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any coronavirus treatments so far. With no vaccines either, Americans have been left clinging to “social distancing” and hope that a breakthrough is coming.

With the death toll climbing, the only current method for treating ARDS, a lung injury that develops in some patients who get COVID-19, is to put patients on ventilators. But a study by Athersys that predates the coronavirus outbreak found that patients who received the company’s experimental treatment recovered faster, and better, from ARDS, Fox reported.

Patients with ARDS participated in a “double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial” of the company’s MultiStem treatment, Athersys CEO Gil Van Bokkelen told Henry on Wednesday, according to Fox. The patients were checked on 28 days after treatment started and a year later, Henry noted — and with positive results.

“Patients were experiencing less time on ventilators,” Bokkelen said, according to Fox. “They were getting out of the ICU faster and, as we announced in January when we did a one-year follow-up, we saw that there was a dramatic improvement of quality of life for those patients that had been treated with multi-stem, relative to the patients that were receiving best available standard of care but only got placebo.”

The study, Bokkelen boasted, was finished before a single coronavirus patient was recorded in the United States. The FDA put the MultiStem therapy on the “fast track” because it was impressed with the results, he added, according to Fox.

Finding the answer

It all comes as the White House has begun warning that up to 240,000 Americans could die from the pandemic, even with social distancing, NBC News reports. The grim news has left many in the media and the Democratic Party to blame President Trump for failing to prepare for catastrophe.

As a COVID-19 surge threatens to overwhelm hospitals, a number of states have clamored for more ventilators to keep gravely ill patients alive. Trump, meanwhile, has also been rebuked for giving “false hope” by touting the anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which were only recently authorized by the FDA to fight the coronavirus.

The drugs are still being studied, though, according to NBC, and the federal government is also sponsoring the research and development of various other vaccines and cures, including MultiStem, which was designated “Highly Relevant” by a government health agency, Fox reported.

A number of private companies are meanwhile working on experimental vaccines and treatments, but with so many “potential” cures being talked about, and as Americans face very real suffering, many are looking for something tangible — and safe, Henry noted. Bokkelen, for his part, defended MultiStem, noting the “rigorous” study of the treatment and its potential when combined with “early intervention.”

“I think the interesting thing is that we may find that combination of things — early intervention that slows the progression of the disease and late-stage therapies like what we have — can really help turn the tide when patients become critically ill. Maybe those are the best approaches to take at the end of the day,” he said, according to Fox. “Lots of things are being evaluated and I think we’re trying to do it as expeditiously as possible.”

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