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Cleveland biotech company making headway on possible COVID-19 treatment

Athersys Inc. developing a treatment for ARDS, a possible side effect of coronavirus

CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio is known for it's number of excellent healthcare systems, and here, you'll also find one of the nations top biotechnology hubs.

There's important research being conducted right now that will impact how we treat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic - and as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, the pressure is on to find effective treatments to help save lives.

Athersys, Inc, a biotech company located right here in Cleveland, is on the forefront of some of that work - as they develop a possible treatment for one of the possible complications of COVID-19.

"For the past few years we've been focused on developing a new medicine called MultiStem that has shown promise in treating patients after they've suffered a stroke or patients with severe pulmonary distress which is a condition known clinically as acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS," said Athersys CEO Gil Van Bokkelen.

ARDS can develop from a number of illnesses and it's once of the more concerning side-effects that can come along with a coronavirus diagnosis.

"It happens when a patient contracts a virus like influenza, or in the current outbreak, COVID-19, which infects the patients and then causes a severe inflammation response in the lungs," Van Bokkelen explained. 

That severe inflammation can be deadly, and is particularly problematic for older patients, or patients with other health conditions, but Van Bokkelen said their early MultiStem results have shown promise. 

"Our clinical data showed that when patients with ARDS were treated with MultiStem, just a single dose, mortality went way down, lung function rapidly improved, patients were able to get off the ventilator a lot faster and also out of the ICU a lot faster."

Although there's no word on when exactly the treatment could be available to the public, Athersys has received fast-track designation from the FDA to accelerate development and regulatory review process. And Van Bokkelen said, there's a lot of reason to have hope right now. 

“There are a lot of people that are very hard at work trying to help make things better."

The Ohio Department of Health announced the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to 442 statewide, covering 46 counties. Coronavirus has taken the lives of six people, while another 104 are hospitalized.  

Watch Gov.DeWine's most recent press briefing below: 

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