As the race to find solutions to the COVID-19 crisis continues, Mesoblast (ASX:MSB) is looking at ways to use stem cells to stop patients developing a respiratory disease that can be deadly for COVID-19 infected patients.

COVID-19 has the potential to inflame the lungs and cause a disease called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which hinders the lungs ability to operate.

Specifically it facilitates fluid build up preventing the optimal amount of oxygen reaching a patient’s blood stream. People who develop the disease need to be placed on ventilation — a medical device that is in short supply in the US.

Mesoblast’s chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman said this morning the mortality rate in moderate to severe ARDS due to COVID-19 could be as high as 80 per cent.

Mesoblast’s Remestemcel-L product is intended to fight graft versus host disease, but now it will be trialed against ARDS.

A phase 2/3 trial was announced this morning in conjunction with a surgical trials network established by the US National Institute of Health’s Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

This follows the FDA signing off on Mesoblast’s Investigational New Drug (IND) application earlier this week.


Potential game changer

It may seem radical to assert a treatment intended for out of control cells can work for a respiratory problem.

But Dr Grossman says the mechanism of Remestemcel-L, originally developed to tame a cytokine storm — an overproduction of immune cells, could work because this is the heart of the problem that is ARDS.

“The mechanism of actions of Remestemcel-L demonstrated in aGVHD supports the evaluation of Remestemcel-L to safely tame a similar cytokine storm in the lungs that leads to a high mortality in patients with COVID-19,” he said.

Earlier this week the company received a ringing endorsement from investor Alex Waislitz. He said that if Mesoblast was successful in its endeavours it could be “a game changer for the way the whole world deals with the virus”.

Shares rose 11.7 per cent this morning, and have surged over 80 per cent in three weeks.


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