Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are participating in a trial of an experimental stem cell therapy for some of the sickest COVID-19 patients who are on ventilators.

The study is one of many going on in Maryland and elsewhere that are testing existing drug therapies, as well as new ones to treat the disease caused by the coronavirus.

This drug was developed by Mesoblast Limited, an Australian company that develops cell therapies. It is designed for those with moderate to severe cases of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome, called ARDS. The trial will assess whether it shortens recovery time and reduces death from COVID-19.

The illness has sickened more than 5 million people worldwide, killing almost 330,000 of them.

“This stem cell therapy is a potential new therapy in our treatment arsenal to battle COVID-19,” said Dr. Sunjay Kaushal, professor of surgery in the school of medicine and chief of the University of Maryland Congenital Heart Disease Outreach Program, in a statement.

“There is an urgent need to find new life-saving therapies for our sickest COVID-19 patients who are suffering from ARDS and require ventilators,” he said. “We are eager to see whether remestemcel-L can reduce mortality in these patients.”

Remestemcel-L was developed for various inflammatory conditions, and researchers say it could reduce COVID-19 related inflammation by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.

Some COVID-19 patients have suffered potentially fatal levels of inflammation caused by an heightened immune response. Patients with ARDS have extensive inflammation in the lungs.

The trial will enroll 300 patients at the University of Maryland Medical Center, other university system hospitals and other U.S. sites over the next three or four months. If the drug appears to be working well or not working at all, the trial could end early. The drug could cause negative immune system reactions, researchers said.

Mesoblast is funding the study.


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