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Broadway set designer is first American to receive placental cell treatment for coronavirus

A highly regarded Broadway set designer who spent five weeks in a medically induced coma after contracting COVID-19 made history as the first American to receive a breakthrough treatment using cells from a placenta.

Edward Pierce, 49, is recovering at home after a harrowing 46-day hospitalization at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, where doctors said he was experiencing organ failure.

Pierce is the associate scenic designer for the original Broadway production of Wicked.

His other credits include Angels in America, Billy Elliott, Amazing Grace, and Bright Star.

Pierce fell ill sometime around March 9, when the severity of the pandemic was becoming more acute in the US.

Edward Pierce, 49, is seen above after he was discharged from Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, on May 1. He is seen left with his wife, Pixie

Pierce spent nearly seven weeks in the hospital. His condition deteriorated to the point where he was suffering from organ failure

Pierce spent nearly seven weeks in the hospital. His condition deteriorated to the point where he was suffering from organ failure

Initially, he thought he had the flu, so his doctor prescribed him some medicine and told him to stay home.

But his condition did not improve, and he was admitted to hospital.

‘My oxygen level was dangerously low,’ Pierce said.

‘They admitted me instantly. It’s been quite a journey.’

Four days after he was admitted, doctors put Pierce on a ventilator.

At one point during his stay, doctors needed to restart Pierce’s heart, which stopped for about 15 seconds after he pulled out his breathing tube.

‘I was pretty scared,’ Pierce told The Daily Beast.

‘I don’t like not being in control of what is going on.

‘[My wife] Pixie was with me until the moment the doctors put the mask on my face and asked me to count backwards from 10.

‘I am quite certain that she said she loved me, and that I said it back to her.

Pierce is the associate scenic designer for the original Broadway production of Wicked. His other credits include Angels in America, Billy Elliott, Amazing Grace, and Bright Star. The image above shows an October 2013 showing of Wicked in New York's Gershwin Theatre

Pierce is the associate scenic designer for the original Broadway production of Wicked. His other credits include Angels in America, Billy Elliott, Amazing Grace, and Bright Star. The image above shows an October 2013 showing of Wicked in New York’s Gershwin Theatre

‘Those were my parting words.’

Pierce continued: ‘The next thing I know, I had woken up and it was five weeks later.

‘What had happened in those five weeks without me knowing was one step forward, two steps back, treatments not being successful, my lungs not clearing out, them trying me out in new positions to get my lungs cleared. I

‘I had pneumonia. I was having some kind of kidney failure.

‘There was talk of dialysis, though I didn’t have to have that, luckily.

‘I had staph infections from tubes being down my throat for so long, and there was a moment I had pulled out my breathing tube in a state of frustration even though I was fully sedated.

‘My heart stopped for 15 seconds. They had to restart that.’

His wife, Pixie, started to contemplate what life would be like if her husband didn’t make it.

She said she received regular updates from the doctors.

‘I would wait for the phone call from the hospital,’ she said.

‘Sometimes the news was good, sometimes it was not so good.’

Pixie said that the doctors treating her husband had nearly run out of options.

So they asked her to authorize an as-yet-untested treatment that involved extracting stem cells from a human placenta.

Pierce is the first American to receive a potentially groundbreaking treatment using cells extracted from a placenta. The above image is a stock photo of a freshly removed placenta after a C-section in an Indian hospital

Pierce is the first American to receive a potentially groundbreaking treatment using cells extracted from a placenta. The above image is a stock photo of a freshly removed placenta after a C-section in an Indian hospital

The treatment was pioneered by an Israeli company, Pluristem Therapeutics, which says that seventy-five percent of COVID-19 patients who were given placental cells had been taken off ventilators, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The company was given permission by the Food and Drug Administration to offer the treatment on a case-by-case basis to patients under ‘compassionate use.’

Compassionate use is the use of a new, unapproved treatment for a seriously ill patient whose condition has not improved after every other option has been exhausted.

‘I know some people would have trouble with us using placental cells,’ his wife, Pixie, said.

‘I would have said yes to anything they wanted to try. This was his best chance.

‘It was basically a “Hail Mary” treatment for him. He was not in a good place.

‘They did not know what they could possibly do for him.’

After she granted permission for the treatment to go ahead, Pierce received an injection of large, fresh placenta cells in approximately 15 locations of his body.

Doctors had used a fresh placenta that was delivered to New Jersey that same day after a woman gave birth in Maryland.

The proposed treatment includes intra-muscular administration of the company’s PLX-PAD, which uses cells derived from the placenta, for severe pneumonia resulting from COVID-19 and preventing the deterioration of patients towards Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and sepsis.

Within a relatively short time frame, Pierce’s condition began to improve.

Within 10 days, he was taken off a ventilator and started to breathe on his own.

Doctors also gradually began to wean him off of sedatives. Three days after Pierce woke up, he had all of his breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and catheters removed.

Pierce was then administered physical and speech therapy. He also started to properly eat food.

On May 1, he was discharged from the hospital after nearly seven weeks of treatment.

Pierce was then sent to a rehabilitation center to rebuild his unused muscles and regain his strength.

For the past two weeks, he has been home recuperating.

‘If I have provided any inspiration for the medical community as they have helped so many of us in our communities, then that makes me happy,’ Pierce told The Daily Beast. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no approved drugs that are specifically engineered to treat COVID-19. 

Scientists last month announced the first effective treatment against the coronavirus — an experimental drug that can speed the recovery of COVID-19 patients — in a major medical advance.

The US government said it is working to make the antiviral medication remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible.

‘What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert. 

‘This will be the standard of care.’

California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences and the US government reported that in a major study, remdesivir shortened the time it takes for COVID-19 patients to recover by four days on average — from 15 days to 11. 

Also, a trend toward fewer deaths was seen among those on the drug, Fauci said.

The study was run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and involved 1,063 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world.

An effective treatment could have a profound effect on the outbreak, since a vaccine is probably a year or more away. 

HOW DOES PLACENTAL CELL TREATMENT WORK?

Pluristem Therapeutics, a Haifa, Israel-based biotech company, developed the technology

Pluristem Therapeutics, a Haifa, Israel-based biotech company, developed the technology

Pluristem Therapeutics, a Haifa, Israel-based biomedical firm, says it has pioneered a treatment using placental stem cells that could be used to help patients heal from conditions like inflammation, ischemia, muscle injuries, hematological disorders, and exposure to radiation.

The company developed PLX-R18, or Placental eXpanded (PLX) cells, which are placenta-derived cells that are mass-produced using three-dimensional bioreactor cell growth technology.

The 3D technology allows the company to reproduce cells at an exponentially faster rate than the traditional petri dish methods.

The basis for this research is the medical benefits said to be contained within the placenta.

The company uses placentas that are donated by mother who give birth through caesarian section.

It then examines each placenta, which is the source of ‘raw material’ that is used to create the treatment.

It is claimed that one placenta, which is usually regarded as medical waste, has enough stem cells to treat 20,000 patients.

Pluristem uses placentas to grow smart cells. The cells are then programmed to secrete therapeutic proteins in the bodies of sick people.

The PLX cells then work with the immune system to provide blood to the inflamed area.

Last year, Pluristem reported positive results from a series of studies in animals of its placenta-based stem cell therapy to treat acute radiation syndrome (ARS).

The studies were conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute.

The company developed PLX-R18, or Placental eXpanded (PLX) cells, which are placenta-derived cells that are mass-produced using three-dimensional bioreactor cell growth technology

The company developed PLX-R18, or Placental eXpanded (PLX) cells, which are placenta-derived cells that are mass-produced using three-dimensional bioreactor cell growth technology

The tests, conducted via the Food and Drug Administration’s ‘animal rule pathway’ as ARS cannot be tested in humans, were designed to evaluate Pluristem’s PLX-R18 as a preventative treatment for ARS before radiation exposure.

The studies demonstrate that PLX-R18, administered 24 hours before radiation exposure and again 72 hours after exposure, resulted in an increase in survival rates, from 4% in the placebo group to 74% in the treated group, Pluristem said.

The data also showed an increase in recovery of blood platelets, neutrophils, white blood cells and lymphocytes and a favorable safety profile. Analysis of tissues collected showed an increase in bone marrow cell numbers and improved regenerative capability, the company said.

PLX-R18 is also being evaluated by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as a treatment following radiation exposure.

In 2018, the FDA cleared the emergency use of Pluristem’s therapy to treat ARS in a nuclear event.

So far, the treatment has been given to hundreds of patients in clinical trials.

The patients were suffering from a range of ailments including atherosclerosis, muscular rehabilitation for those who suffered broken hip joints, and complications from diabetes.

The treatments have so far been so promising that the European Investment Bank pledged 50million euros to the company toward further research for COVID-19 therapies.

‘When it comes to the coronavirus, the pathogen enters the body which starts to activate the immune system,’ said Dr. Racheli Ofir of Pluristem’s intellectual property department.

‘The immune system then starts fighting in all directions, firing in every direction, and in so doing it not only kills the virus but also kills off healthy cells within the body.

‘When our cells are injected into the body, we expect them to identify the overactivation of the immune system so that they know to calm it down.’

The company claims that all COVID-19 patients that were administered the treatment as part of ‘compassionate use’ survived – this after they were in serious danger.

But the number of patients given the treatment is less than that in traditional clinical studies.

The company says it is receiving many inquiries from governments worldwide asking about the treatment.

It hopes to receive funding to conduct clinical trials before approval is given and the therapy can be mass-produced.

But one Israeli public health expert is skeptical.

‘I don’t have any feeling this is going to work,’ said Manfred Green, founding director of the Israel Center for Disease Control.

‘This is a viral disease, not something from outer space, and for viral diseases we’ve always struggled to find treatment.’

Pluristem is also collaborating with NASA to see if the therapy helps astronauts recover loss of musculature after spending extended periods of time in space.

Source: Mako, Times of Israel

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