In Depth

Coronavirus: what is Pluristem’s placenta-based cell therapy?

Seven critically ill patients reportedly saved by experimental treatment option

Seven critically ill coronavirus patients in Israel have survived the illness after being treated with a new form of cell therapy.

The patients were given a placenta-based product provided by Pluristem, the Israeli company behind the treatment.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the patients were treated at three different Israeli medical centres for one week and were suffering from acute respiratory failure and inflammatory complications associated with Covid-19. 

All the patients survived and, according to Pluristem, four of them showed respiratory improvement, while three of them are in the advanced stages of being weaned off ventilators.

What is the treatment?

According to Pluristem, the treatment uses PLX cells, placenta-based cells that stimulate the healing of damaged tissue by triggering the body’s own regenerative mechanisms.

The company adds that PLX cells can be “grown” and administered to patients without matching them with the person’s existing tissue. 

The Jerusalem Post reports that the results could be the “reversal of dangerous overactivation of the immune system. 

“This would likely reduce the fatal symptoms of pneumonia and pneumonitis (general inflammation of lung tissue),” the paper adds.

In people with a dysfunctional immune system, this overstimulation of the immune system may cause what is known as a cytokine storm.

When the body is damaged, immune cells are directed to the affected area by proteins known as cytokines. In a cytokine storm, cytokines effectively send out an SOS signal that causes far too many immune cells to flood into the stricken area.

A cytokine storm sees the immune system launch all of its weapons at once, destroying the foreign invader in the body, but potentially doing irreversible damage to healthy tissue at the same time.

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What happens next?

According to Pluristem, it now plans to apply for initiation of multinational clinical trials for treatment of complications associated with coronavirus.

“We are pleased with this initial outcome of the compassionate use programme [for use of unauthorised medicine] and committed to harnessing PLX cells for the benefit of patients and healthcare systems,” said Pluristem CEO and president, Yaky Yanay. 

“Pluristem is dedicated to using its competitive advantages in large-scale manufacturing to potentially deliver PLX cells to a large number of patients in significant need.”

The company is in discussions with regulators in the United States and Europe to “define our clinical strategy for Covid-19”, Yanay added.

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