Regenerative medicine trial raises hopes of COPD ‘cure’


By Selina Wellbelove

13 Sep 2023

Repairing damaged lung tissue with patients’ own progenitor cells has shown early promise as a treatment for COPD for the first time in new research presented at ERS 2023.

In a Phase I trial, transplanting millions of cloned P63+ progenitor cells into the lungs of 20 patients with COPD via bronchoscopy was well tolerated and led to improvement in lung function, according to lead researcher Professor Wei Zuo, from the School of Medicine at Tongji University in China, and also Chief Scientist at Regend Therapeutics, which funded the study.

In the trial, 17 patients with COPD (35% severe; 53% extremely severe) showed a significant improvement in the diffusing capacity of the lungs (DLCO), which rose from 30% at baseline to 39.7 after 12 weeks and further to 40.3% after 24 weeks.

Also, at 24 weeks, the median distance covered in a six-minute walking distance test increased from 410 metres to 447 metres, and there were improvements in quality of life as indicated by a seven-point reduction in the SGRQ test.

Notably, lung damage previously considered permanent and progressive was repaired in two patients with mild emphysema, the research team reported.

Clinical use in two to three years?

A Phase II trial is now planned to assess the treatment’s efficacy in a wider group of patients in the hope of developing the treatment for clinical use in around two-to-three years, the researchers said.

There is hope that its scope could extend beyond COPD – with trials also planned in pulmonary fibrosis and bronchiectasis – and even into other organs and tissues, such as kidney disease.

“Most of the lung diseases with tissue damage, especially those with progressive, irreversible tissue damage, could be addressed by this kind of cell-based regenerative strategy,” noted Prof. Zuo at an ERS press conference attended by the limbic.

“I think regenerative medicine is a very, very promising strategy for many diseases”, he said.

Professor Omar Usmani, Imperial College London (UK), Head of the European Respiratory Society group on airways disease, asthma, COPD and chronic cough, said the results were encouraging, but stressed that a key limitation of the study was that uptake of progenitor cells when transplanted back into patients was uncontrolled.

“So we do not know whether the lungs of some patients responded better to the transplantation than others. We hope this information may become apparent in future studies,” he said.

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