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Cartesian Therapeutics Initiates Clinical Trial of First RNA-Engineered Cell Therapy for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and COVID-19

Descartes-30 engineered to express a unique combination of DNases to eliminate neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), a key driver of inflammation and clotting in ARDS.

Gaithersburg, MD, September 1, 2020 – Cartesian Therapeutics, a fully integrated, clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing cell and gene therapies for cancer, autoimmune diseases and respiratory diseases, today announced that it has initiated a Phase 1/2 clinical trial of its lead RNA-engineered mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy, Descartes-30, in patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS, including that caused by COVID-19. Based upon the company’s research and analysis, this program is understood to be the first RNA-engineered cell therapy to enter clinical development for ARDS and COVID-19. It is also the first cell therapy to specifically degrade NETs, webs of extracellular DNA and histones that entrap inflammatory cells, block alveoli and vessels, and drive the pathogenesis of ARDS and COVID-19.

“Patients with ARDS, especially those with COVID-19 ARDS, generate copious amounts of NETs that physically obstruct alveoli and vessels, which leads to respiratory distress, immune-mediated thrombosis and a vicious cycle of inflammation,” said Bruce Levy, MD, Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Parker B. Francis Professor at Harvard Medical School, and a clinical investigator in the Descartes-30 trial. “We would therefore expect that degrading NETs would improve oxygenation as well as resolve thrombi and quell inflammation in these patients. If successful, Descartes-30 would be a highly differentiated game-changer within our limited toolkit in managing this exceedingly difficult condition.”

Descartes-30 is an off-the-shelf (allogeneic) MSC product engineered with Cartesian’s RNA ArmorySM cell therapy platform. By expressing a unique combination of DNases that work synergistically, Descartes-30 can eliminate large, macroscopic amounts of NETs within minutes. MSCs are inherently immunomodulatory and naturally travel to the lungs, where they are expected to provide continuous, local delivery of DNases to NET-laden lung tissue.

“We engineered Descartes-30 without genomic modification, and therefore the production of DNases is expected to be time-limited to match the acute nature of ARDS,” said Metin Kurtoglu, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer at Cartesian. “Given that Descartes-30 will produce DNases locally and transiently, we anticipate that it will have a favorable benefit-to-risk profile. We also anticipate that these properties will enable Descartes-30 to treat a wide array of NET-related autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases.”

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