UAE stem cell treatment sees ‘favorable’ outcome

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A man wears a protective mask as he exercises on May 03, 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Francois Nel | Getty Images

A new treatment that helps to relieve coronavirus symptoms could be brought to market in three months’ time if further trials go well, according to a researcher involved in the project.

“It’s very early to say at this stage,” said Dr. Fatima al-Kaabi, head of hematology and oncology at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in the United Arab Emirates. 

“We’ve been happy that our initial safety results are promising, that’s why we’re heading into the next phase, of effectiveness of this treatment,” she told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Monday.

“If all … went well and it worked well, then I would propose … three months’ time,” she said, when asked how quickly the treatment, which was developed by doctors and researchers at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Center, could reach the market.

To date, there are no known vaccines or specific antiviral medicines against Covid-19. U.S. health officials say developing a vaccine will take at least 12 to 18 months.

The UAE has 14,163 cases and 126 deaths due to the coronavirus, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.

The remedy uses a “minimally invasive” method where a Covid-19 patient’s stem cells are extracted, activated and turned into a fine mist to be inhaled. This alleviates symptoms such as shortness of breath and possibly coughing, said Dr. al-Kaabi.

“It is hypothesized to have its therapeutic effect by regenerating lung cells and modulating the immune response to keep it from overreacting to the COVID-19 infection and causing further damage to healthy cells,” the UAE’s ministry of health and prevention said a statement.

Some 73 patients with moderate to severe symptoms received this treatment, and all were “successfully treated and cured,” the statement said, adding that none reported “immediate adverse effects.” Around a quarter of these patients were intubated and in the intensive care unit.

The treatment was given along with “conventional medical intervention” and will not replace established protocols, according to the statement.

“We’re hopeful,” said Dr. al-Kaabi, noting that the results of further trials on the efficacy of the treatment will only be out a couple of weeks’ time. “We’ve seen (a) favorable outcome.”

Another treatment for the coronavirus, an antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences, has been in the spotlight following positive preliminary results from trials. America’s Food and Drug Administration granted the medicine emergency use authorization last week. That means doctors can administer remdesivir to patients hospitalized with Covid-19, even though the drug has not undergone the same FDA review as other treatments.

Separately, researchers cut short a study testing anti-malaria drug chloroquine as a potential Covid-19 treatment last month. The drug gained widespread international attention after two small studies published in France found the coronavirus infection cleared a lot faster for patients taking it when compared to a control group.

However, citing a high risk of death, scientists have now scrapped the trials, warning it should prompt some degree of skepticism from the public toward enthusiastic claims of the drug. President Donald Trump had touted chloroquine as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

— CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace Jr. and William Feuer contributed to this report.

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