New cell therapy network to help protect North Rhine-Westphalia against pandemics

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany, is supporting seven university hospitals and their cooperation partner Miltenyi Biotec in the development of cell therapies and the establishment of a state-wide infrastructure

Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, March 2, 2022 - An infrastructure network is being established at seven university hospitals in NRW for the implementation of novel cell therapies against COVID-19 and any future viral pandemics. In parallel, the University Hospital of Cologne is conducting research into cell therapy against COVID-19. The Ministry for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia is funding the innovation projects with 7.75 million euros. 
On Ash Wednesday, Minister Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart visited the project partner Miltenyi Biotec to find out about the progress of the whole project.

Ministerial visit focusing on the status of the innovation funding project (from left): Stefan Miltenyi (founder of Miltenyi Biotec), Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart (MWIDE NRW), Prof. Dr. Michael Hallek, Dr. Philipp Köhler (both University Hospital Cologne).

The treatment of COVID-19 is complex. A novel approach involves the transfer of human immune cells that a donor has developed during the course of recovery from COVID-19 disease. These so-called T cells, trained by the body to fight SARS-CoV-2 viruses, could be administered to a patient in an attempt to promote a shorter and milder course of the disease. A clinical trial in Spain showed promising initial outcomes. Now, a cell therapy network is to be established in NRW to make this procedure available to patients living here.   
"We urgently need promising therapeutic approaches for long-term pandemic management," said Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart, Minister for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia. "There are currently several hundred research projects worldwide. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is one of the forerunners in this respect and, with its universities, clinics and companies, possesses outstanding know-how in the field of infectious diseases. I am very pleased that we can make an important contribution to COVID research with the expertise of the project partners here in North Rhine-Westphalia."  

Establishing a NRW-wide infrastructure

As part of the funding, university hospitals in Aachen, Bochum, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Essen, Cologne and Münster will be the recipients of technology and training provided by Miltenyi Biotec. At the heart of the project is the company's CliniMACS Prodigy®. This device is currently unique in the world in its ability to automatically manufacture cell products for routine clinical use. It will enable university hospitals themselves to carry out treatments with virus-specific T cells. A study at the University Hospital of Cologne is investigating whether immune cells from convalescent donors can be safely used in clinical settings to treat COVID-19 patients. If successful, this would provide a treatment method that can be adapted to mutations of the virus as well as to new viruses. The powerful network should enable the university hospitals to cooperate even more quickly with each other in the event of an emergency. This would make this innovative form of treatment available to patients nationwide at a much earlier stage.   
But in the long term, the network could also benefit the treatment of other diseases. For example, cell therapy is already being used very successfully for leukemia and could also be effective against other types of cancer in the future. Research is already being conducted worldwide into further potential applications.   

Clinical research tests cell therapy approach

The T cells needed for the study at the University Hospital of Cologne are being produced at the Institute of Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Engineering at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) using technology developed by Miltenyi Biotec. A donor database for SARS-CoV2-specific T cells has already been established there.  
"The study will include patients with moderate COVID-19 disease or at risk for severe disease progression. We want to use this novel therapy to prevent the need for intensive care treatment and worsening of the patient’s health. A first step in this process is to test whether the therapy can be used safely," explains Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Hallek, Director of Clinic I for Internal Medicine at Cologne University Hospital. 
A total of between six and twelve patients are to be treated as part of this first study. "The positive outcomes of a recently published study in Spain give us hope. We are confident that this treatment approach will also be able to show a therapeutic effect in the Phase I study at the University Hospital of Cologne. This would help affected patients to survive the disease better and faster," sums up Dr. Boris Stoffel, CEO of Miltenyi Biotec. 

About Miltenyi Biotec

Miltenyi Biotec is a global provider of products and services dedicated to supporting biomedical research and advancing cellular therapy. Our innovative solutions support research at all levels, from basic and translational research to clinical applications. Our technologies enable cell research, cell therapy and cell manufacturing solutions used by scientists and clinicians around the world. Our more than 30 years of experience span research areas such as immunology, stem cell biology, neuroscience and cancer. Today, Miltenyi Biotec employs approximately 4,000 people in 23 countries - all helping researchers and clinicians to make a greater contribution to science and healthcare.

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