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CIRM Board Approves Clinical Trials Targeting COVID-19 and Sickle Cell Disease

LOS ANGELES, CA (US), May 2020 — The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has approved new clinical trials for COVID-19 and sickle cell disease (SCD) and two earlier stage projects to develop therapies for COVID-19.

Michael Matthay, M.D., of the University of California at San Francisco, was awarded $750,000 for a clinical trial with mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a life-threatening manifestation of COVID-19 that leads to ICU admission and ventilator dependence. This award will allow Dr. Matthay to expand his current Phase 2 trial to additional underserved communities through the UC Davis site.

“Dr. Matthay indicated in his public comments that 12 patients with COVID-related ARDS have already been enrolled in San Francisco and this funding will allow him to enroll more patients suffering from COVID- associated severe lung injury,” said Maria T. Millan, M.D., CIRM’s president and CEO. “CIRM, in addition to the NIH and the Department of Defense, has supported Dr. Matthay’s work in ARDS and this additional funding will allow him to enroll more COVID-19 patients into this Phase 2 blinded randomized controlled trial and expand the trial to 120 patients.”

The board also approved two early stage research projects targeting other manifestations of COVID-19:  

  • Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., at Scripps Research Institute was awarded $150,000 to develop a drug that is both anti-viral and protects the brain against coronavirus-related damage.
  • Justin Ichida, Ph.D., at the University of Southern California was also awarded $150,00 to determine if a drug called a kinase inhibitor can protect stem cells in the lungs, which are selectively infected and killed by the novel coronavirus.  

The board also awarded Pierre Caudrelier, M.D., from ExcellThera $2 million to conduct a clinical trial to treat sickle cell disease patients.

SCD is an inherited blood disorder caused by a single gene mutation that results in the production of “sickle” shaped red blood cells. It affects an estimated 100,000 people, mostly African American, in the U.S. and can lead to multiple organ damage as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.  Although blood stem cell transplantation can cure SCD fewer than 20 percent of patients have access to this option due to issues with donor matching and availability.  

Dr. Caudrelier is using umbilical cord stem cells from healthy donors, which could help solve the issue of matching and availability. In order to generate enough blood stem cells for transplantation, Dr. Caudrelier will be using a small molecule to expand these blood stem cells. These cells would then be transplanted into 12 children and young adults with SCD and the treatment would be monitored for safety and to see if it is helping the patients.


Late last month CIRM announced that it was awarding $749,999 to John Zaia, M.D., program director of the City of Hope Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, Duarte, Calif., for a clinical study he is conducting to administer blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat those with the virus. This marks CIRM’s first clinical study for COVID-19 after approving emergency funding a month earlier.

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