A Pluristem scientist at work..
(photo credit: PLURISTEM)
More than 12% of the US population is over the age of 65, according to a 2010 report by the United States Census Bureau. In Israel, 10.6% of the population is in this age bracket, a 2013 report by the country’s Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed.
In both countries – and in many other countries around the world – populations are aging, and this is an important trend that demands attention. But according to Yaky Yanay, co-CEO and President of Israeli cell therapy developer Pluristem Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PSTI), (TASE: PSTI), the costs of this growing segment of society, including ballooning costs for global healthcare systems, are not being adequately addressed.
Yanay said that while we have doubled life expectancy in the last 150 years, “there is a significant decrease in quality of life as we age. The current standards of care allow the body to live longer, but not always better.”
Yanay sees increased longevity as a moral, philosophical and economic issue. According to Yanay, elderly people are hospitalized for too long per incident and suffer from chronic ailments far too often; they are consuming drugs for much longer than recommended by physicians and many lose mobility, forcing them to stay at home. Our current health systems, he says, are simply not prepared for the current quantity of older people. And the financial costs of this population, especially in the healthcare realm, are becoming an increasing drain on governments and economies.
Pluristem hopes to improve this situation. Pluristem’s cell therapy products are designed to treat patients by stimulating their bodies’ own regenerative mechanisms.
The company is currently in the final stages of tests for placental-derived adherent stromal cells to treat older patients by bolstering an internal healing process. Tests are determining whether the interaction of these special cells within the body allows the body to start regenerating itself, healing its own damaged tissue.
Pluristem has been testing use of these cell products specifically in patients with Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI), which occurs when there’s a build-up of fatty substances in artery walls in the legs, obstructing blood flow. Most of the patients are above the age of 45, due to the fact that the fatty substances accumulates over the years. 5-6 million people in major pharmaceutical markets (US and EU) suffer from CLI with high amputation and mortality rates. Studies show that patients who receive the cell therapy have significantly improved blood flow and increased growth of collateral blood vessels while increasing limb function.
Yanay said Pluristem’s Phase III study is ongoing and that he hopes the treatment will be available on the European market in two years, and in the US in three years.
The treatment is off-the-shelf and needs no tissue matching, making it significantly less expensive and considerably more convenient than other treatments.
Yanay said that from one placenta, collected after Caesarean birth, Pluristem can manufacture as many as 20,000 treatments.
“It’s quite amazing,” said Yanay. “The placenta is an underestimated organ that could have a tremendous impact on the way we keep ourselves healthy and ultimately, live longer.”
But what is also amazing is that it could revolutionize the way we treat the sick in general.
“For the last 100 years, most oral drugs target ‘anti-something’ – anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer – trying to tackle and destroy something in the body that is causing disease,” Yanay explained. “Our cell therapy treatment and regenerative medicine in general works by secreting proteins supporting the healing process. We help the body heal itself.”
Tobias Winkler, a physician at Charite, Germany’s largest university hospital, said Pluristem’s cell therapy could prove effective in treating any number of challenges associated with immunological stress regularly experienced by the elderly. He explained that the human body is constantly regenerating itself to ward off diseases and combat injuries. Since older people’s regenerative systems have generally been eroded due to this process, it has fewer beneficial cells to fight off these attacks, leading to less effective regeneration in the elderly. Thus, this treatment could be a game-changer.
“We urgently need to regenerate better,” said Winkler.
“I think the potential of these cells to help in the regeneration process is really promising.”
Yanay said that regenerative medicine is trending in the US, Europe, Japan, Korea and China. With Pluristem, Israel has become a significant part of the dialogue.
“We are trying to push all the main regulators to work together to try to define what aging is and how we can develop new treatments and technologies to support longevity.”