The results of a recent phase 2 study of stem cell therapy for rheumatoid arthritis can only be described in one word: tantalizing. The dramatic results, which include symptoms relieved for at least nine months after just one stem cell injection, still need to be validated in a larger phase 3 study. But that hasn’t stopped RA patients and doctors alike from being cautiously eager about the potential for stem cell therapy to relieve a painful and debilitating condition.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Autoimmune Disease
Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune dysfunction, impacts more than 1.3 million Americans, most of whom are women. This chronic disease inhibits the functions of the joints due to stiffness, swelling, and extreme pain. Unfortunately, the inflammation caused by RA often causes complications in other parts of the body such as the eyes and lungs. In addition to severe stiffness, especially in the morning, symptoms of RA include loss of energy and appetite.
Since RA is an autoimmune disease, it is caused by the body’s immune system attacking healthy joint tissues and causing unnecessary inflammation. While treatment has improved over the last three decades, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. Current treatment can help patients remain functioning and near normal levels, but without a cure the only option is to minimize symptoms as much as possible. The most popular RA pharmaceutical drugs include Enbrel, Remicade, and Humira, and though they have undoubtedly generated billions of dollars in revenue and helped millions of patients reduce their symptoms, up to 40 percent of patients don’t respond to the drugs, and others become resistant to them over time.
Mesoblast’s Stem Cell Therapy
Mesoblast, a world leader in innovative cellular medicines, tackles RA by utilizing mesenchymal precursor cells (MPCs) that can be injected into the body without being registered by the immune system as foreign invaders. The MPCs then move immediately to the sites of inflammation and embed themselves in the inflamed tissue, essentially interfering with the production of inflammatory molecules. Unlike medications currently on the market, Mesoblast’s stem cell treatment delivers relief by resolving the root cause of RA, rather than just forcing the immune system into a weakened state.
The Phase 2 study of Mesoblast’s RA treatment, which is a single intravenous dose of MPCs, demonstrated that the therapy’s benefits continued nine months after the original injection. The study involved 48 patients, all of whom were resistant to the existing RA drugs on the market. Mesoblast’s CEO, Silviu Itescu, remarked, “The nine month outcomes generated from this study are highly encouraging. The early and durable effects seen from a single infusion of 2 million MPC/kg support the potential of our allogeneic cell therapy to be positioned as an early treatment option for patients resistant to anti-TNF agents.”
Mesoblast will now move onto a larger phase 3 study to validate these promising results and prove exactly how regenerative medicine can provide lasting relief, and potentially even a cure, for patients struggling with RA.