• Press Release

Mount Sinai Leading the Way in Innovative Stem Cell Therapy for COVID-19 Patients

  • New York, NY
  • (April 10, 2020)

Mount Sinai Health System is the first in the country to use an innovative allogeneic stem cell therapy in COVID-19 patients and will play a central role in developing and conducting a rigorous clinical trial for patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome, the breathing illness that afflicts people who have severe cases of COVID-19.

The therapy, known as remestemcel-L, has previously been tested in bone marrow transplant patients, who can experience an overactive immune response similar to that seen in severe cases of COVID-19.

Mount Sinai began administering the therapy, known as remestemcel-L, to patients in late March under the Food and Drug Administration’s compassionate use program, which allows patients with an immediately life-threatening condition to gain access to an investigational therapy. Ten patients with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19-related acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), most of whom were on ventilators, were given the therapy and doctors saw encouraging results.

“We are encouraged by what we have seen so far and look forward to participating in the randomized controlled trial starting soon that would better indicate whether this is an effective therapy for patients in severe respiratory distress from COVID-19,” said Keren Osman, MD, Medical Director of the Cellular Therapy Service in the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program at The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and Associate Professor of Medicine (Hematology and Medical Oncology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Osman oversaw the treatment of the first Mount Sinai patients with this innovative therapy.

Under the leadership of Annetine Gelijns, PhD, Alan Moskowitz, MD, and Emilia Bagiella, PhD, of Mount Sinai’s Institute of Transformative Clinical Trials, Mount Sinai will serve as the clinical and data coordinating center for a randomized clinical trial evaluating the therapeutic benefit and safety of this stem cell therapy in 240 patients with COVID-related ARDS in the United States and Canada. The trial will be conducted as a public-private partnership between the Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network, which was established as a flexible clinical trials platform by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and Mesoblast, the manufacturer of the cells.

“The coronavirus pandemic has caused exponential increases of people suffering with acute respiratory distress syndrome, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation with many dying,” said Dr. Gelijns, who is also the Edmond A. Guggenheim Professor of Health Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We have designed a clinical trial that will expeditiously determine whether the stem cell therapy will offer a life-saving therapy for a group of patients with a dismal prognosis.”

“We are interested to study the potential of this anti-inflammatory cell therapy to make an impact on the high mortality of lung complications in COVID-19 patients,” said CSTN Chairman A. Marc Gillinov, MD. “This randomized controlled trial is in line with our mandate to rigorously evaluate novel therapies for public health imperatives.” 

The therapy consists of mesenchymal stem cells. These cells are found in bone marrow and serve many functions including aiding tissue repair and suppressing inflammation. The therapy was previously tested in a phase 3 trial in children who had an often-fatal inflammatory condition called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) that can occur after bone marrow transplants.

The inflammation that occurs in GVHD is the result of a cytokine storm, which activates immune cells that attack healthy tissue. A similar cytokine storm that causes damage to the lungs and other organs appears to be taking place in COVID-19 patients who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, said John Levine, MD, Professor of Medicine (Hematology and Medical Oncology), and Pediatrics, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who helped implement the compassionate use of the drug at Mount Sinai.

“These stem cells have shown excellent response rates in severe graft-versus-host disease in children,” said Dr. Levine, who is also the co-director of the Mount Sinai Acute GVHD International Consortium (MAGIC). “Mesenchymal stem cells have a natural property that dampens excessive immune responses.”

Several people were instrumental in quickly and efficiently working through the complex application process for each patient to gain compassionate use of the therapy. Three key players involved were Stacey-Ann Brown, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Tiffany Drummond, Assistant Director of Regulatory Affairs at The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai; and Camelia Iancu-Rubin, PhD, Director of the Cellular Therapy Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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