Phase II Regenerative Stem Cell Treatment Opens Door for RA Treatments  

An Australian pharmaceutical firm that specialises in the development of cellular medicines has recently completed a study to determine if regenerative stem cell therapy could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

The phase II stem cell treatment has been met with praise, particularly by those who work in fields of medicine pertaining to autoimmune, inflammatory and degenerative diseases. The possibilities of stem cell regenerative therapy for use in medical treatments are being looked into extensively by experts on both sides of the Atlantic, with hopes it can eventually be used in the treatment of conditions affecting the heart along with autoimmune illnesses such as RA.  

About the study 

Conducted by Mesoblast, the study created a stem cell therapy that could be administered via IV to treat patients suffering with RA. 

These patients had experienced no success taking traditional medications for rheumatoid conditions, known as anti-TNF drugs. There are five FDA anti-TNF medications currently available, available under the brand names of Remicade, Humira, Cimzia, Enbrel, and Simponi. During the Phase II study, 48 of these patients were provided with a single injection of the stem cell therapy, which was comprised of mesenchymal precursor cells (MCPs). These are multipotent stromal cells, meaning they can split into different types of cells ranging from bone to muscles, fat and cartilage. This means they are present in the body in a number of different forms, and so they do not trigger a response from the body’s immune system upon injection. In a report on the study, Mesoblast explained: 

“The way the cells work is, they have receptors on their surface that are activated by every major cytokine that is important in progressive rheumatoid arthritis, including TNF, IL-1, IL-6, IL-17. Those cytokines drive the disease and also bind to receptors on our cells. And when they bind to our cells they activate the cells to release other factors that switch off the very cells that made those cytokines.”

Essentially, the injected cells alter the body’s response to correct the autoimmune response that causes RA. Following the study, patients reported feeling better for up to nine months after the injection. 

An alternative to anti-TNF drugs? 

Tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF╬▒) is a cytokine, which is a substance released into the body when inflammation occurs. 

While inflammation is a normal bodily process, in patients affected by RA, the joints of the body become inflamed as opposed to the illness or infection that is meant to be targeted. Therefore, anti-TNF drugs are often prescribed to stop the release of this cytokine into the body. However, as an estimated one-third or more patients don’t experience any relief from the first anti-TNF drug they are prescribed, there is a push within the RA treatment community to find alternatives. Studies have taken place to measure the effectiveness of prescribing second line anti-TNF biologics in comparison with prescribing non-TNF biologics, but it was shown that in those who were prescribed second-line therapy, 40 per cent of patients still found no relief. 

For this reason,  finding alternatives to anti-TNF treatments is crucial in easing the lives of those living with RA, which is where stem cell regenerative therapy has the potential to help scientists make great strides.