City of Hope just received $750,000 in funding from California’s Stem Cell Agency (CIRM) for a clinical trial that will help medical centers use blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat people who have COVID-19. This is the first clinical trial CIRM announced after it released $5 million in emergency research funding to address the pandemic. It is also the first non-stem cell study that CIRM has funded.

By Samantha Bonar | April 29, 2020

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) awarded $750,000 to City of Hope’s John Zaia, M.D., on for his first clinical study on COVID-19 after approving emergency funding last month.

Zaia, program director of City of Hope’s CIRM-funded Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, will be conducting a study to administer blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat those with the virus. (The mission of the City of Hope Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, part of the CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic Network, is to accelerate stem cell-based clinical therapies in regenerative medicine.)

Plasma is a component of blood that carries proteins called antibodies that are usually involved in defending our bodies against viral infections. Blood plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, referred to as convalescent plasma, contain antibodies against the virus that can be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Currently, there are challenges with this approach that include properly identifying convalescent plasma donors (recovered patients), determining the eligibility of those with convalescent plasma who want to donate, collection of the plasma, treating patients and determining if the plasma was effective.

Zaia, Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy and director of the Center for Gene Therapy at City of Hope, and his team will create the COVID-19 Coordination Program to address solutions for all of the challenges listed above. The program will partner with the medical teams at CIRM’s other Alpha Stem Cell clinics, as well as infectious disease, pulmonary and critical care teams from medical centers and community hospitals across the state.

Potential donors will be identified and thoroughly screened for eligibility per established national and state blood banking safety requirements. Finally, the convalescent plasma will be collected from eligible donors and administered by licensed physicians to COVID-19 patients, who will be evaluated for response to the treatment and potential recovery.

“With CIRM funding, the City of Hope COVID-19 Coordination program will tap into CIRM’s network of researchers, physicians and our Alpha Clinics to deliver this treatment to patients in need,” said Maria T. Millan, M.D., president and CEO of CIRM. “It will also serve the critical role of gathering important scientific data about the plasma, safety, and clinical data from treated patients.”

CIRM was created by California voters in 2004 to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. It has $3 billion in funding and approximately 300 active stem cell programs, including the one at City of Hope.