Cell Therapy Could Help Reduce Risk of Death From COVID-19


A study found that the 3 leading cell type therapies used to treat COVID-19 were mesenchymal stem cells or multipotent stromal cells, natural killer cells, and mononuclear cells.

Advanced cell therapies like mesenchymal stem cells or multipotent stromal cells (MSCs) could provide a clinical benefit to patients with severe COVID-19 and reduce the risk of death from the disease by 60%, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.1

Researchers have long sought to demonstrate the clinical efficacy of cell therapies, in particular to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)­. Previous data has shown that MSCs may be beneficial, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic gave researchers the opportunity to broadly study novel therapeutic interventions. However, knowledge on the outcome of cell therapies for ARDS and COVID-19 is still lacking.

“Cell therapy has advanced significantly in recent years and has been used to treat cancer and auto-immune, heart and infectious diseases,” Otávio Cabral-Marques, coordinator of the study, said in a release.2 “During the pandemic, it was used to treat COVID-19 in several clinical trials. Our study is the first to review all the information on these experiences scattered around the world…”

Investigators from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, in partnership with researchers in the United States and Germany, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the outcomes of published clinical trials focusing on cell therapy of COVID-19.

Data was gathered from 18 registries, which included 195 clinical trials that were conducted in 30 countries between January 2020 and December 2021. Most studies were done in the United States, China, Spain, and Iran. An additional 26 trials with data published in July 2022 were also included in the study.

Investigators found that the 3 leading cell type therapies were MSCs at 72%, natural killer cells at 9%, and mononuclear cells at 6%. Most registered trials were in early phase research, with 56% below phase 2. Out of the trials included in the study, 24 reported on infusion with MSCs, which found a relative risk reduction for all-cause mortality from COVID-19. Investigators said that there were no severe adverse events related to the infusion, but they noted many studies gave patients anti-coagulant therapy as a prophylaxis.

Additionally, the sources, manufacturing, and clinical delivery methods of MCSs throughout the studies were remarkably diverse, though there was a predominance of perinatal tissue-derived products. The researchers said they “…support ongoing calls for a global registry of clinical studies with MSC products that could better link cell product manufacturing and delivery methods to clinical outcomes.”

“The results highlight the important role these cells can play in adjuvant therapies for COVID-19 and the associated complications,” said Cabral-Marques. “However, they also point to a need for better control of key parameters relating to the way the cell therapy products are made if we are to assure comparability between studies.”

1. Couto PS, Al-Arawe N, Filgueiras IS, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of cell therapy for COVID-19: global clinical trial landscape, published safety/efficacy outcomes, cell product manufacturing and clinical delivery. Front Immunol. 14:1200180. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1200180
2. Ziegler, MF. Cell therapy can reduce risk of death from COVID-19 by 60%, study shows. News Release. Agência FAPESP. September 18, 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://agencia.fapesp.br/cell-therapy-can-reduce-risk-of-death-from-covid-19-by-60-study-shows/44863
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