Wednesday, August 27, 2014

California's Stem Cell Trial for Spinal Cord Injury Moves Forward

A California firm, backed by $14.3 million in state cash, today announced that it has received a federal go-ahead to advance its clinical trial involving a human embryonic (hESC) therapy for cervical spinal cord injury.

Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc., of Menlo Park, said in a press release that it is currently selecting clinical trial sites and expects to enroll patients beginning early next year. The trial is the continuation of an effort that Geron abandoned in 2011 for financial reasons.

Pedro Lichtinger, president and CEO of Asterias, said,
  “We are especially enthusiastic about working with our new partner, (the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM), in executing this clinical trial. The FDA clearance provides Asterias with imminent access to the previously announced $14.3 million CIRM grant, which provides non-dilutive funding to support both the clinical trial and other product development activities for AST-OPC1.”
The phase 1/2a trial will involve doses of up to 10 times higher than what was used earlier. Up to 13 patients will be treated within 14 to 30 days after their injury occurred. The hope is that it will be easier to detect the efficacy of the treatment with such dosages.

As for the early stage trial involving five patients, the company said,
“These five patients were administered a low dose of two million AST-OPC1 cells and have been followed to date for 2 to 3 years. No serious adverse events were observed associated with the delivery of the cells, the cells themselves, or the short-course immunosuppression regimen used.  There was no evidence of expanding masses, expanding cysts, infections, cerebrospinal fluid leaks, increased inflammation, neural tissue deterioration or immune responses targeting AST-OPC1 in these patients.  In four of the five subjects, serial MRI scans performed throughout the 2 to 3 year follow-up period indicate that reduced spinal cord cavitation may have occurred and that AST-OPC1 may have had some positive effects in reducing spinal cord tissue deterioration.”
Asterias was awarded the cash by the California stem cell agency in May. (See here and here.)

Randy Mills, president of the stem cell agency, said today,
“This is exactly the type of treatment, focusing on an unmet medical need, that CIRM was created to address.”
Katie Sharify, one of the patients involved in the trial when it was started by Geron, said in the CIRM press release,
“A lot remains unknown about human embryonic stem cells and that's exactly why this research is so important. The scientific community is going to have a much greater understanding of these stem cells from the data that will be collected throughout the study and I'm glad to have been a part of this advancement."
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