Stem Cell Therapy for Lower Back Pain Moves Closer

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

There’s good news on the horizon for those who suffer from lower back pain due to disc degeneration.

Mesoblast, an Australian biotech company, has partnered with Grunenthal, a large German pharmaceutical company, to commercialize an investigational stem cell product called MPC-06-ID -- a stem cell formula comprised of mesenchymal cells derived from the bone marrow of healthy volunteers. Mesoblast could receive up to $1 billion from Grunenthal if the treatment is successful.

MPC-06-ID is currently in a Phase III placebo-controlled trial in the U.S. In the trial, millions of stem cells grown in a laboratory are injected into the patients’ degenerated discs with the goal of reducing inflammation and causing the discs to regenerate.

In previous trials, 47% of those who received the injection had a significant reduction in pain 12 months later. The results persisted for three years.

The estimated study completion date for the Phase III trial is March 2021. So, unfortunately, there is a bit of a wait. But Mesoblast is hopeful the study findings will result in FDA approval.

The company is also studying a stem cell product for chronic lower back pain. More on Mesoblast’s products and how they treat back pain can be found here.

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What does this mean? First and foremost, it’s great news for people suffering from back pain. This is a population that is woefully underserved by conventional medicine. Limited options include analgesics like opioids, which are increasingly difficult to obtain, and spinal surgery that is costly, often ineffective and can even exacerbate the problem. I have previously written about these issues here.

Clinicians around the country have been using stem cell therapy (SCT) for years to treat back pain and even difficult spinal conditions like arachnoiditis. However, these clinics have been operating under the scythe of potential persecution for using products not approved by the FDA.

Not only has this placed them squarely in the crosshairs of regulatory authorities which issue warning letters and file lawsuits, but it has also subjected them to internet censorship by Google and others.

The Mesoblast-Grunenthal partnership is indicative of the fact that major corporate investment in SCT is increasing -- and that can be a great thing for consumer choice. More and more biotech investors are recognizing that SCT is the future of medicine, especially when it comes to treating conditions caused by chronic inflammation. Forbes reports that the market size of the SCT industry was $8.65 billion in 2018, with a projected annual growth rate of 8.8%.

We saw recent evidence of this trend with Bayer’s acquisition of Bluerock Therapeutics’ and its stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease and other chronic illnesses. And Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals recently acquired Semma Therapeutics for $950 million in a bet that its SCT products could cure type 1 diabetes.

Why is the SCT market so robust? Transparency Market Research attributes it to a “rise in consumer awareness.” In other words, people are desperate for relief and looking for new treatments. Suffice it to say, any additional treatment option for those suffering from back pain is more than welcome.

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A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Study Tests Stem Cells for Degenerative Disc Disease

By Pat Anson, Editor

An Australian biotech company is testing a new stem cell treatment for degenerative disc disease.

Mesoblast is enrolling patients in a Phase 3 study to see if a single injection of mesenchymal precursor cells (MPCs) taken from the bone marrow of healthy donors can relieve back pain and improve the mobility of patients with disc disease, which occurs when the cushions between vertebrae wear down because of aging, genetics or injuries.

Millions of MPCs are injected directly into the damaged disc in an outpatient procedure. Previous studies have found that MPCs have anti-inflammatory effects, and help strengthen and improve the stability of damaged discs. The treatment is being developed for patients who have exhausted other options for their back pain.

“Patients with this level of degeneration often try multiple treatments for relief, including pain medication, massage, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture,” says lead investigator Kee Kim, MD, professor of neurological surgery and co-director of the University of California Davis Spine Center.

“For some of them, nothing seems to help, and we end up operating to remove the degenerated disc and fuse the spine to eliminate motion that may cause increased pain. We want to know if a single dose of this investigational therapy can offer relief without the need for surgery.”

UC Davis is one of 28 sites in the United States and Australia involved in the study. Participants with degenerative disc disease in the lower back will receive injections of either MPCs, MPCs with a carrier material (hyaluronic acid) or a placebo. Although the MPCs are collected from donors, tissue matching is not necessary.

Following treatment, participants will be evaluated by researchers six times over the course of a year. They also will be given the option to participate in an extension of the study to track their progress for three years after the initial injection.

Previous studies have found that MPCs have anti-inflammatory effects, and help strengthen and improve the stability of damaged discs. Researchers caution, however, that the treatment may not be effective for everyone.

“Many patients with back pain will not benefit from this stem cell therapy and may still require surgery,” Kim said. “For some patients, it could offer improvement. For these patients, it is worth exploring this alternative.”

You can find out more about the study by clicking here.

Stem Cell Study for Back Pain Begins

By Pat Anson, Editor

Enrollment has begun in a clinical study of an experimental stem cell therapy that could – if proven successful – revolutionize the treatment of low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease.

About 330 adults with chronic low back pain who have not responded to conventional therapy will be enrolled in the Phase III “Cascade” study at over two dozen medical centers in the United States. Participants will be injected in the lumbar disc with millions of Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs) – adult stem cells derived from donated bone marrow.

An earlier Phase II study showed that a single injection of a 6 million cell dose of MPCs reduced low back pain and improved function for at least 12 months. Participants also used fewer opioids for pain relief and required less treatment.

“If you look at the study as a whole, people who received the 6 million stem cell injection into the disc, 70 percent of them had a reduction of their pain of 50% or greater. These were clinically relevant changes,” said J. Scott Bainbridge, MD, lead investigator at Denver Back Pain Specialists, one of the clinics participating in the Cascade study.

"The clinical program is the first of its kind in the United States and we are very excited by the potential of these adult stem cells to provide a novel therapeutic approach."

Bainbridge says the stem cell injection takes up to two months to stop the pain and inflammation triggered by degenerative disc disease.

“It takes time for the stems cells to normalize the inflammatory condition,” Bainbridge told Pain News Network. “You’re taking a disc that is on a degenerative cascade or path. The stem cells regulate that, they change it from an inflammatory stage to an anti-inflammatory, homeostatic state. It turns on the engine, if you will, to start building and producing some of the things that will help the disc become hydrated and build back some of its structural integrity.”    

Degenerative disc disease is the most common cause of low back pain, which develops with the gradual loss of proteoglycan, a substance that cushions the bones of the spine and enables normal motion.

Conventional treatment includes pain medication, physical therapy or surgical intervention such as a spinal fusion. Bainbridge says stem cell injections have the potential to become a frontline treatment, to be used before a riskier treatment such as surgery.

The Cascade study is sponsored by Mesoblast Limited, an Australian company focused on cell-based regenerative medicine. Mesoblast is also developing stem cell treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic neuropathy, using “off-the-shelf” stem cells from healthy adult donors that do not require tissue matching.

“(There) is compelling evidence that Mesoblast’s stem cell technology has the potential to change the treatment of spinal disease from focusing on surgical reconstruction to biologic regeneration. Physicians and patients are seeking access to a new modality to treat patients with this highly debilitating disease for whom there are limited options,” said Hyun Bae, MD, Medical Director at the Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, which participated in the Phase II study.

Unfortunately, it could take years for the therapy to win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Cascade study alone is expected to take about three years. For further information about the study and a list of the 25 clinics that are recruiting participants, click here.