Cell therapies trial planned for COVID-19

More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 since January 2020. While Australia has been relatively spared from the onslaught of infections and deaths, our nation’s scientists need to be part of the global effort to address this pandemic.

Associate Professor Rebecca Lim, 
Research Group Head, Amnion Cell Biology

“There is no effective treatment to address the ongoing damage caused by for severe COVID-19 infections,” said Associate Professor Rebecca Lim, Research Group Head of Amnion Cell Biology at Hudson Institute. “Our team is investigating whether a cell therapy can be effective.”

Therapy using cells from the amniotic sac will be investigated

Amniotic epithelial cells (amnion cells) are from the amniotic sac which surrounds a baby during pregnancy. They have stem cell-like properties and can grow into many cell types. Most importantly, they have potent effects on inflammation and tissue damage.

A/Prof Lim and Professor Euan Wallace (Clinical Director, The Ritchie Centre) are developing a clinical trial to investigate whether these cells can help treat patients with COVID-19.

The team is working closely with intensivists at Monash Health’s Intensive Care Unit to deliver a Phase 1b/2a clinical trial for COVID-19 positive patients requiring hospitalisation.

The goal of the trial is to determine if allogeneic amniotic epithelial cells are an effective therapy for severe COVID-19 complications. Specifically, the trial will test whether the cells can significantly reduce the ‘cytokine storm’ associated with COVID-19 infection, encourage lung tissue to repair, and reduce the incidence of blood clotting and subsequent multi-organ complications including strokes, liver and kidney failure.

“We have already shown that the allogeneic amniotic epithelial cells are safe and well-tolerated in extremely premature neonates and acutely unwell adults. So far, we have observed improvements in adult patients with liver disease and severe stroke. This points to the likely benefits for patients with COVID-19. These cells may also reduce the incidence and severity of the disease damage caused by blood clotting in tissues,” A/Prof Lim said.

Trial to be undertaken by Victoria’s leading cell therapy clinical trial teams

This project involves a partnership between Hudson Institute, Monash Health and Monash University—a team that leads the way in Victoria in cell therapy clinical trials targeting inflammation and regenerative medicine.

“Victoria is perfectly placed to deliver a cell therapy treatment for COVID-19,” A/Prof Lim said.

However, the trial requires funding.

The other trials using our cell-based therapies are in

  • Acute ischaemic stroke (blood clot in the brain)
  • Compensated liver cirrhosis (liver scarring)
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (lung disease) in extremely premature babies
  • Crohn’s-related perianal fistulas.

Research Group leading this work