Pluristem’s cell therapies head for orbit with NASA deal

Ruth Globus, senior scientist for space biosciences at NASA, will lead the project. (NASA/Dominic Hart)

Pluristem has just reached a stellar deal with NASA that will see its cell therapies tested against the health problems caused by spending time in space.

The Israeli biotech is teaming up with NASA’s Ames Research Center for the project, which will focus on using its PLX placenta-derived cell therapies to try to prevent or treat medical conditions that can occur during and after space missions, including conditions that affect the blood, bone, muscle, brain and heart.

The project is backed by a grant under NASA’s ARIA grant scheme and will be led by Ames senior scientist Ruth Globus, Ph.D., who specializes in researching the effects that low gravity and exposure to space radiation can have on the health of astronauts. It’s well established that the ionizing radiation that astronauts are exposed to in space, coupled with microgravity, can have an impact on bone marrow-derived stem cells and their progeny. That in turn has a profound impact on muscle and bone, as well as other organ systems.

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Astronauts need to exercise for around two hours a day to compensate, and despite those efforts they can lose up to a fifth of their muscle mass after a relatively short spaceflight of five to 11 days. On longer missions, the rate of loss is around 1% to 2% a month, putting them at risk of bone fractures.

“During space missions, astronauts are exposed to a challenging environment … leading to muscle and bone loss as well as other potentially serious medical conditions,” says Globus. “We are intrigued by the possibility that PLX cell therapies can address these and other persistent negative effects of space travel on the human body.”

Pluristem’s current pipeline is headed by PLX-PAD, consisting of cells which secrete a range of therapeutic proteins that trigger the body’s own repair mechanisms and—according to experimental results—can help grow collateral blood vessels to bring oxygenated blood to ischemic tissue, heal damaged muscle, and reduce inflammation.

PLX-PAD has generated positive results in phase 2 trials in intermittent claudication—painful cramps that affect patients with peripheral arterial disease—and muscle injury in hip replacement surgery patients, as well as a pair of phase 1 studies in critical limb ischemia.

Pluristem is also working on PLX-R18 cells, which are in development for incomplete engraftment of transplanted hematopoietic cells and acute radiation syndrome. The company says PLX-R18 has the potential to increase survival rates after radiation exposure, as well as protect and regenerate the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells.

“Three of the biggest medical problems astronauts face during long term space exploration missions are muscle and bone loss and radiation exposure,” comments Yaky Yanay, the Israeli biotech’s co-CEO. “PLX cells have the potential ability to help regenerate muscles, as well as protect and regenerate the hematological system following exposure to radiation. We look forward to harnessing our PLX regenerative medicine platform for space research and establishing a robust and mutually beneficial partnership with NASA.”

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