In the Eye of the Corona Storm: A Drug That Works

By Shlomo Maital


Yaky Yanay

    My good friend Dr. G. N. Rao, founder of the L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India, drew my attention to this:   A coronavirus drug that works.

     According to Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, writing in the Jerusalem Post:

   “Israeli-based Pluristem has treated its first American patient suffering from COVID-19 complications under the country’s compassionate use program.

 The news comes days after a report by the company showed that six critically ill coronavirus patients in Israel who are considered high-risk for mortality were treated with Pluristem’s placenta-based cell-therapy product and survived, according to preliminary data provided by the Haifa-based company.

Let me provide some background.

Researchers report: “When it comes to COVID-19, recent research has suggested about 20% of people get the severe form of the disease. Many in this group become critically ill because of their advanced age or underlying health conditions. But those who were previously healthy and are in their 30s, 40s, 50s are very likely experiencing a cytokine storm.”

A small but significant fraction of COVID-19 patients, mainly younger ones, die not from the ravages of the virus on their lungs, but because their body over-reacts, as their immune system kicks in violently and creates this “cytokine storm”. It turns out that an overly strong immune reaction is just as bad, or worse, than a weak reaction.

How does Pluristem’s drug work? Here is how CEO Yaky Yanay explains it:

“Patients who are in severe condition and dying are actually dying from a severe respiratory condition. What is actually happening is there is a very high level of inflammation and at a certain point the immune system of the patient will attack [the patient], mostly in the lungs.   Until now, Pluristem’s technology has been largely used to treat people suffering from poor blood flow to the legs, but the company’s scientists were able to quickly repurpose the cells to treat coronavirus patients.   “We take cells from the placenta after full-term delivery and we have developed technology to expand the cells to very large numbers, in an environment that mimics the human body,” Yanay said. “The technology allows us to treat more than 20,000 people from a single placenta.”

       His team “programs” the cells, which then have a wide range of proteins they can secrete. The cells don’t just deliver the proteins but also “adjust the level of secretion based on signals they receive from the body.”

       The US FDA allows using the drug on compassionate grounds for very seriously ill patients. But for widespread use, full-scale three-phase clinical trials are necessary, and are already well underway.