The Miami Cancer Institute (the Institute), part of Baptist Health South Florida has been at the forefront of investigating promising treatments coming out of initial emergency and experimental COVID-19 therapies. The Institute is leading a trial using mesenchymal stem cells for critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 induced respiratory failure as well as a trial site location for the Phase 2 BLAZE-4 trial, which continues work on bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody recently awarded Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those with mild COVID-19 symptoms. COVID-19 research efforts at the Institute have been led by Guenther Koehne, MD, PhD, principal investigator, and director and chief of Stem Cell Transplantation, Hematologic Oncology and Benign Hematology.
Principal Investigator Point of View
In a recent news release, the Miami Cancer Institute’s Dr. Guenther Koehne shared, “It’s exciting to lead these next generation clinical trials.” Dr. Koehne continued, “We have learned much about COVID-19 since the pandemic began last winter and our hope is that these trials will lead to tremendous treatment options for a wide range of patients.”
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Trial
Early in the pandemic, Miami Cancer Institute received single-use emergency approval from the FDA to give mesenchymal stem cells ― cells derived from umbilical cord lining tissue ― to several COVID-19 patients who were critically ill. The patients recovered. The stem cells aid in healing by regenerating damaged lung tissue. The formal, phase I/IIa trial opening now is for hospitalized patients who are receiving oxygen therapy or who are on ventilation support and are not showing improvement with other therapies.
“In our early experience with these umbilical cord lining stem cells, we had very promising results,” Dr. Koehne said. “We are very hopeful that the clinical trial will give us evidence that this treatment can save the lives of patients who experience respiratory failure due to COVID-19.”
Bamlanivimab, BLAZE-4 Trial
The Florida Department of Health is allocating bamlanivimab for EUA use and Baptist Health has a limited supply. Miami Cancer Institute participated in the monoclonal antibody’s phase 1 study, BLAZE-1, which led to the EUA. Now the Institute is enrolling patients in the phase 2 study, BLAZE-4.
Bamlanivimab can be given as an IV infusion to COVID-19-positive patients who are not hospitalized and have mild symptoms. It must be administered within 72 hours of a positive test result. It works by prohibiting the virus from anchoring to ACE2 receptors, which are proteins on the surface of many cells that allow the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter and infect cells. In the initial study, it showed a subsequent hospitalization rate of 1.7 percent among those who received the drug versus a 6 percent hospitalization rate among those who received a placebo.
The BLAZE-4 trial is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of bamlanivimab (also known as LY3819253) both on its own and in combination with another monoclonal antibody specific to target the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 to prevent the virus from entering into the epithelial cells (LY3832479). There are five arms to the trial. Arm 1 is a placebo. Arms 2, 3 and 4 consist of bamlanivimab plus a second monoclonal antibody (both given in different dosages). Arm 5 is bamlanivimab alone.
“As a physician-scientist, I won’t settle for the standard of care. I am always looking for better. This is a promising step forward,” Dr. Koehne said. “We have reached a new level of sophistication ― trying to treat the virus before it makes you really sick.” The first trial showed that bamlanivimab may reduce viral load, symptoms and risk of hospitalizations and emergency room visits associated with COVID-19 and this trial may further improve the outcomes. “Despite the prospect of having COVID-19 vaccines in the future, which are intended to prevent from getting sick, we need to stay focused on the treatment of those individuals that are symptomatic from the virus,” Dr. Koehne added.
About Miami Cancer Institute
Miami Cancer Institute brings to South Florida access to personalized clinical treatments and comprehensive support services delivered with unparalleled compassion. No other cancer program in the region has the combination of cancer-fighting expertise and advanced technology—including the first proton therapy center in South Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean, and one of the only radiation oncology program in the world with each of the newest radiation therapies in one place—to diagnose and deliver precise cancer treatments that achieve the best outcomes and improve the lives of cancer patients. The Institute offers an impressive roster of established community oncologists and renowned experts, clinical researchers and genomic scientists recruited from the nation’s top cancer centers. Selected as Florida’s only member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer (MSK) Alliance, Miami Cancer Institute is part of a meaningful clinical collaboration that affords patients in South Florida access to innovative treatments and ensures that the standards of care developed by their multidisciplinary disease management teams match those at MSK.
Miami Cancer Institute is part of Baptist Health South Florida, the largest healthcare organization in the region, with 11 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Baptist Health has internationally renowned centers of excellence in cancer, cardiovascular care, orthopedics and sports medicine, and neurosciences. In addition, it includes Baptist Health Medical Group; Baptist Health Quality Network; and Baptist Health Care On Demand, a virtual health platform. A not-for-profit organization supported by philanthropy and committed to its faith-based charitable mission of medical excellence, Baptist Health has been recognized by Fortune as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America and by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. For more information, visit BaptistHealth.net/Newsroom and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Guenther Koehne, MD, PhD, principal investigator, and director and chief of Stem Cell Transplantation, Hematologic Oncology and Benign Hematology.
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