Galway, Ireland - 15 March 2021: CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, has announced a new research partnership with US-based biotechnology company, Factor Bioscience Inc., to develop and test a new cell therapy for people with severe COVID-19 infections and other serious respiratory illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in resurgent waves globally, and effective therapies are urgently needed. Most people who die from COVID-19 die of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This devastating inflammatory condition causes the lungs to fill with immune cells and fluid, ultimately making oxygen transfer to the blood impossible.
"In recent years, stem cells have been rapidly advanced to testing in clinical trials as a way of treating ARDS caused by, for example, a bacterial infection. However, because of the way these stem cells are prepared from adult human tissues and because there is a limit to the volume of cells that we can produce, the consistency of these cell products and the availability of large doses has always remained a challenge until now" explains CÚRAM Investigator and project lead, Prof John Laffey.
"Our partners, Factor Biosciences, a long-time collaborator of CÚRAM, has developed a novel type of stem cell with almost unlimited production potential. As part of this project, these stem cells will be produced at the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland (CCMI), at NUI Galway, and then tested in CÚRAM laboratories. Ultimately we hope to bring this exciting new cell therapy to a clinical trial for severe cases of COVID-19 and other ARDS patients within the next year."
Matt Angel, co-founder and CEO of Factor Bioscience, leads the development of their core technologies. "Building clinical and academic partnerships like this one is critical to our mission. We have an excellent relationship with CÚRAM, and this project brings the perfect blend of expertise together enabling us to have a direct and significant impact on patient health. Factor Bioscience has developed a fast, highly-efficient method for reprogramming somatic cells to a pluripotent stem-cell state, a key invention now recognized by several patents. This technology, which enables the production of patient-specific cells for transplantation, has wide-ranging applications in personalized regenerative medicine." said Dr Angel.
Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, welcomed the partnership, saying: "The SFI Research Centres programme positions Ireland as a global leader in innovative scientific research. Investment in centres like CÚRAM has ensured that Ireland is well positioned to respond to the COVID-19 challenge with agility and speed. This sector will be greatly strengthened by the level of cooperation and new partnerships that have been built as a result."
The Centre for Cell Manufacturing I at NUI Galway is the only licensed cell manufacturing site in Ireland. Within this custom-built centre, the CCMI team produce stem cell products that are used in human clinical trials designed to test their effectiveness in a range of life-limiting medical conditions. Prof Frank Barry, a collaborator on the project at the CCMI, with over 25 years of experience in cell therapy, says, "This project is a clear example of our commitment to addressing the world's major health challenges by translating cutting-edge biomedical research into new and effective treatments."
The current project is CÚRAM’s second collaboration with Factor Bioscience Inc. CÚRAM's strategic mission is to establish a world-leading Irish Medical Device Research and Development Centre to develop diagnostic devices, biomedical implants, cell-device and drug-device combination products to address unmet clinical needs. In doing so, the Centre partners with local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and multinational medical device and pharmaceutical companies to increase employment in Ireland.
The recent announcement of over €46M in funding for the CÚRAM SFI Research Centre demonstrates the Government's strong commitment to reinvesting in the MedTech industry in Ireland, supporting the continuation of substantial academic, industry and clinical collaborations central to CÚRAM's work.