Korean stem cell research gains momentum as COVID-19 applications

2020.07.24 12:45:41 | 2020.07.24 12:46:07

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Korean stem cell therapy developers are seeking a turnaround with new business opportunities through the momentum of COVID-19 pandemic as their investigational products are now being explored for coronavirus kits and treatments.

Out of six pharmaceutical products approved so far for treatment purposes by Korean health authorities, four are stem cell therapies which are currently under development for various indications.

Treatment-purpose approval allows health authorities to grant a nod on using an investigational drug for patients with life-threatening or serious illnesses when there are no available therapies.

Pharmicell is one of such companies that are benefiting from rising demand for COVID-19 treatment. The company’s Cellgram-AKI, an investigational allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell therapy under phase 1 trial for patients with acute kidney disease was approved for COVID-19 treatment at the end of last March. Data showed two in three coronavirus patients improved significantly after treatment with the drug. Pharmicell also sees its nucleoside sales soaring as the AKIs are sold to virus detection kit and reagent manufacturers including U.S. Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Pharmicell accounts for more than 80 percent of the global market of nucleosides used in diagnostic and pharmaceutical purposes. The company’s nucleoside sales already surpassed 7 billion won ($5.83 million) in the first half, which is equal to its full-year sales last year.

Kangstem Biotech’s allogeneic umbilical cord blood-derived stem cell therapy Furestem RA being developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis was approved for treatment purposes early May after data showed the drug inhibits cytokine storm and lymphopenia to help improve symptoms of COVID-19 patients. The company is planning to resume a phase 3 trial for its atopic dermatitis drug Furestem AD within this year after a decline by local authorities last year.

SCM Lifescience which went public on the Kosdaq last month recently received treatment-purpose approval of its stem cell med SCM-AGH. SCM-AGH now being tested in patients with steroid-refractory acute graft versus host disease (GVHD), moderate to severe acute pancreatitis and atopic dermatitis is expected to be used to control acute respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients.

By Kim Byung-ho and Minu Kim

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