Citius Pharma has submitted a pre-IND meeting request and supporting briefing documents to the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) related to a novel stem cell therapy in patients suffering from COVID-19-related ARDS. The submission was made under the FDA’s Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP), an emergency program to accelerate the development of treatments for COVID-19.

The cells, called NoveCite Cells or NC-MSCs, are made by Novellus Inc. NC-MSCs are mesenchymal stem cells derived from a single donor’s fibroblasts that have been dedifferentiated into an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) master cell bank, thereby avoiding the need to source additional donor cells. The iPSCs are then further differentiated into a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy.

Citius and Novellus plan to develop NC-MSCs for the treatment of ARDS, and last month the companies signed an exclusive option agreement.

The Company plans a multi-center randomized placebo-controlled dose-finding study followed by an expansion phase to assess the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of NC-MSCs in patients with moderate to severe ARDS due to COVID-19. The proposed trial, a Phase 1b/2 clinical trial, is titled “A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Dose-Finding Study Followed by a Dose Level Expansion to Assess the Safety and Efficacy of NoveCite MSCs in Subjects with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) Due to SARS-CoV-2 Disease (COVID-19),” or “MARCO”. The primary objectives of this study are to evaluate the safety and efficacy of NoveCite cells as a treatment for subjects with moderate-to-severe ARDS due to COVID-19 and to identify therapeutic doses.

“MSCs have an established track-record of clinical safety, and have shown promise in the treatment of inflammatory lung disease,” said Matt Angel, PhD, co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Novellus, Inc. “Our research has shown that the NoveCite cells, being derived from mRNA-reprogrammed iPSCs, secrete higher levels of immunomodulatory proteins than donor-derived MSCs, and have unique manufacturing advantages.”

“We believe we have the key elements in place from a clinical design and manufacturing point of view to evaluate this novel cell therapy approach to deal with the current pandemic,” said Myron Holubiak, Chief Executive Officer of Citius. “ARDS is a very serious complication for many patients suffering from COVID-19, and is believed to account for about 80% of the deaths in ventilated patients. There is no proven or FDA-approved treatment for it, other than oxygen therapy, including use of mechanical ventilation, and fluid management. Literature from previous investigational studies with MSCs in the treatment of lung injuries support the idea that MSCs could prove effective in treating COVID-19-related ARDS. We look forward to our FDA discussions and are excited to be at the cusp of what could be a novel and effective therapy for ARDS.”