Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mesoblast treatment achieves "remarkable" results for critical Covid-19 patients

An Australian-developed stem cell treatment has drastically increased survival rates in trials for ventilator-dependent patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to Covid-19.

Melbourne-based regenerative medicine company Mesoblast (ASX: MSB, NASDAQ: MESO) has been engaged in trials with New York City's Mt Sinai hospital to intravenously infuse its product remestemcel-L in patients, and the early signs are promising.

The sample size of 12 patients may be small, but 83 per cent (10) of them have survived after the stem cell treatment compared to a 12 per cent survival rate for ventilator-dependent Covid-19 patients with the condition at a major referral hospital network in the city.

Mesoblast reports 75 per cent of the patients (9) were able to come off ventilator support within a median of 10 days, compared to a 9 per cent rate for patients treated with standard of care during March and April.

Seven of the patients, who were given remestemcel-L within five days under emergency compassionate use, have been discharged from the hospital.

Using bone marrow aspirate from healthy donors, Mesoblast's proprietary technology is currently used to treat a condition called acute graft versus host disease (aGVHD), which many suffer after receiving a bone marrow transplant (BMT).

But as the Covid-19 pandemic took centre stage, the company hypothesised Remestemcel-L would be able to treat what is known as a cytokine storm in the lungs that often occurs with serious Covid-19 cases.

The company then quickly mobilised plans for trials in the US, Australia, China and Europe.

"The remarkable clinical outcomes in these critically ill patients continue to underscore the potential benefits of remestemcel-L as an anti-inflammatory agent in cytokine release syndromes associated with high mortality, including acute graft versus host disease and Covid-19 ARDS," says Mesoblast chief executive Dr Silviu Itescu.

"We intend to rapidly complete the randomized, placebo-controlled Phase 2/3 trial in COVID-19 ARDS patients to rigorously confirm that remestemcel-L improves survival in these critically ill patients.

The company's chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman emphasises a significant need to improve the "dismal survival outcomes in COVID-19 patients who progress to ARDS and require ventilators".

"We have implemented robust statistical analyses in our Phase 2/3 trial as recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to maximise our ability to evaluate whether remestemcel-L provides a survival benefit in moderate/severe COVID19 ARDS," he says.


Much ado over a minor crisis

Keep a sense of historical perspective

Tom Switzer

This has been the week of doomsayers. Forecasters talk about double-digit unemployment. A major airline has gone into voluntary administration. Businesses of all kinds are retrenching staff. Employees are sacrificing their salaries. We face a massive amount of debt. We clearly face hard times.

But it may help us get through them if the Australian people keep a sense of history and perspective. Remember nothing on the horizon suggests we face sufferings of the kind that were commonplace a century ago. Those were the days of a world war (62,000 Australians were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner), a much deadlier pandemic than Covid-19 (we suffered more than 12,000 deaths during the Spanish influenza in 1918-19) and a Great Depression (many did not find new employment until the Second World War).

As we commemorate Anzac Day this weekend, bear in mind that our troubles in coming months look pretty paltry alongside those of our grandparents and great-grand parents.

Yes, the coronavirus crisis threatens many with disappointments and distress. But we should recognise that the sacrifices demanded from us will be infinitely smaller than those of past generations in crises of war and depression. And we should recognise that if Australia recovers from the Covid-19 economic shock, our leaders should put in place the kinds of economic reforms –- tax, workplace, infrastructure, superannuation, education – that CIS has long supported.



Coronavirus Australia: Everything Scott Morrison announced on Friday

Prime Minister Scott Morrison highlighted how suppression of coronavirus in Australia was working, while addressing several other issues on Friday.

Mr Morrison noted “the good progress that has been made”, pointing out how NSW was now encouraging anyone with symptoms of the virus to get tested.

He said we were now in the third phase of the outbreak, the “community phase”, where the virus actually moved within our own community.

The National Cabinet, after meeting again on Friday, agreed to expand testing criteria across Australia to all people with mild symptoms of COVID-19.

Mr Morrison said this would ensure cases were quickly identified. “This is a very important pillar of how we will be dealing with this virus going forward into the future,” he said.

“We already have one of the most, if not most, comprehensive testing regimes in the world, and this is a key, a key tool for us going forward.”


Mr Morrison said National Cabinet had accepted the advice of the medical expert panel that “it is not recommended” that masks are “necessary to be worn”.

“It's not about protecting you from infection. But that's why, when people were leaving airports and things of that nature, they were wearing them to prevent the transmission,” he said.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy backed him up. “We have very low case numbers in Australia, and these masks often aren't of particularly good quality, and they often provide a false sense of security and make people not practice the social distancing measures that we want,” Professor Murphy said.

“So we are not recommending the general community wear masks. We have been saying that consistently through the pandemic.”

Mr Morrison said the 4 square metre rule, and 1.5-metre distancing between students during classroom activities, “is not appropriate and not required”.

The exemption left some parents confused, but Mr Morrison said the advice from medical experts was clear. “I can't be more clear than that,” he said in a press conference.

Mr Morrison said that was based on advice from Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

The government's expert medical panel is preparing a series of recommendations on easing some restrictions on social gatherings.

In three weeks’ time, National Cabinet will meet to consider a roll back of strict measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, thanks to Australia’s success in flattening the curve.

Aged care homes across Australia were put on notice to stop leaving seniors locked down in their rooms over coronavirus fears, and banning visitors and carers.

As families complain some aged care homes are taking a draconian approach to patient safety, Mr Morrison urged providers to do the right thing.

“Having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that's not OK,” he said. “We are not going to have these as secret places, where people can't access them. They must.”

The much-discussed coronavirus tracing app still isn't ready, but Mr Morrison said it was “not far away”. “We're making great progress,” he said.

“The app will soon by released. There are still some issues we're working through late in the piece, which is to be expected. We're not too far away now.

“Earlier this week, as I indicated to you, it received the in principle support of the National Cabinet, and we have been taking that through its final stages in recent days.”

National Cabinet has agreed to a set of “COVID-19 Safe Workplace” principles.

“This is all about getting Australians back to work and ensuring that, when they go back to work, that they and their families can feel safe,” Mr Morrison said.

“It's to ensure that there are important principles in place, there are protocols and procedures that, should a COVID-19 case present in a workplace, then the rules that people need to follow.”


'This is not a one-off hit': Sydney universities cut courses and casual staff

Western Sydney University has warned staff it will cut casual workloads next semester as it faces mounting financial shortfalls over the next three years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes amid mounting concern about casual workforces across the state's universities, with Sydney University slashing 30 per cent of its arts courses and one-third of casuals at the University of NSW reporting they've lost work.

"This is not a one-off hit," WSU Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover told staff via video link on Thursday. "The challenge is bigger in 2021 [and 2022] than it is in 2020."

The university has flagged a $90 million shortfall in 2020, which could grow to between $120 and $130 million in 2021 and 2022 as travel restrictions remain in place and anticipated growth fails to materialise.

University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Paul Wellings on Thursday also revealed a shortfall of $90 million linked to COVID-19 restrictions, which he said would have "compounding effects for subsequent years".

Wollongong executive leadership will take a 20 per cent pay cut for 12 months and freeze non-essential external recruitment.

Professor Glover said WSU would compensate by increasing domestic student numbers and reducing expenditure, including by cutting its casual budget in semester two while courses were predominantly delivered online.

Casual staff will be prioritised for work on new six-month online courses created by the federal government's higher education relief package, but Professor Glover said the scheme did not "go far enough for the sector at the moment".

"We don’t believe the Commonwealth has done enough to support international students," he said, noting WSU was considering reducing fees for international students.

But Professor Glover said the University of Sydney and UNSW were in a more difficult predicament, facing budget shortfalls of $470 million and $600 million respectively this year.

Sydney University's arts and social science faculty has been told to cut its courses by almost a third next semester to reduce the cost of casual staff as revenue plummets due to COVID-19.

Academics have been asked to target courses that were not essential to the progress of a degree, even if students had already enrolled in them.

Resources needed to be focused on core units to focus on the quality of subjects still on offer, and to save money "to ameliorate the impact of a downturn on staffing into 2021", one school within the faculty was told in an email. "The 30 per cent reduction will have impacts on student choice, staff teaching and the availability of casual work."

A report compiled by the University of NSW Casuals Network showed that one in three casuals at the university had lost work this month, costing them an average of $626 a week, and 42 per cent were working unpaid hours.

Higher education workers do not qualify for the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme.

A spokeswoman for Sydney University said the reduction of courses offered by the arts and social sciences faculty was unrelated to COVID-19, and was designed to ensure the school could "operate sustainably in the medium to long term".

The university had also asked managers to look at workloads. "We anticipate we will contract fewer casual teachers for semester two than previously projected. To date, we have no plans to terminate anyone’s employment," she said.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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