MACON, Ga. — As we start to see our COVID-19 cases increase again, Coliseum Medical Centers is one of just 12 hospitals in the country trying out an experimental treatment.
As of Monday, Coliseum currently has 30 COVID-19 patients and 5 of them are on ventilators.
According to the Israeli company, Pluristem, that's the type of candidate they are looking for to test a new cellular therapy to possibly treat the virus in extremely sick patients, if they choose to participate.
"It will give us an option to treat patients with very severe COVID-19 pneumonia because right now, our treatment options that are effective for those patients are pretty limited," says Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, who is leading the clinical trial at Coliseum.
The mesenchymal-like adherent stromal cells, or PLX-PAD, were developed by Pluristem.
When they began trials in Israel, six critically ill patients who were considered "high-risk for mortality" and treated with the PLX cells, survived.
Hoffman says they will inject living cells into the patient's muscles to help regulate the immune system.
She says patients with a severe case of the virus that is complicated by Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome are the ideal candidates for the treatment.
She says they are already enrolling patients who opt into the trial.
"They have to be so sick that they're requiring a mechanical ventilator to help them breathe," she says. "We have to treat them beginning within 36 hours of incubation because we think that if it works, it works best if given early."
Hoffman says these cells come from the placenta of women who have a C-section.
"So women who are having C-sections for whatever reason can be recruited as donors to donate their placenta which obviously is not needed anymore."
The US Food and Drug Administration approved Pluristem's initial study of these cells back in May.
Between Coliseum and the other hospitals involved, the company is looking to recruit 140 patients in the U.S. for the trial.
Hoffman says to her, the science makes sense.
"Let me put it this way. I wouldn't be participating in this study if I didn't believe in it and if I didn't think the initial preliminary data that I've seen looked promising. Definitely, I am hopeful, but we gotta wait on the trial results."