Conference Coverage

Cell and gene research raise hopes for recessive dystrophic EB treatments



Advances in cell- and gene-based research are paving the way towards the possibility of a cure for the rare inherited skin disorder, recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB), several experts said at the first EB World Congress, organized by the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Association (DEBRA).

Dr. Peter Marinkovich associate professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine Sara Freeman/MDedge News

Dr. Peter Marinkovich

“I think there is a palpable sense that we are close to some breakthroughs for EB,” which may include “a cure for this intractable disease,” said Jouni Uitto, MD, PhD, in welcoming delegates to the meeting, held in January 2020.

Dr. Uitto, professor of dermatology and cutaneous biology, and biochemistry and molecular biology, at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Philadelphia, said that the “breadth of academia-based basic science has been tremendous over the past 3 decades. We can now identify 21 different genes harboring mutations associated with different EB phenotypes, and we have a pretty good understanding how those mutations actually explain the phenotypic spectrum of different forms of EB.”

Importantly, “there are now perhaps as many as a dozen different clinical trials that are in the early stages of trying to find a permanent cure for this disease,” Dr. Uitto said, with some that are looking at fixing the underlying defect once and for all, or at the very least, counteracting subsequent complications. “The spectrum varies from attempting to enhance wound healing to gene repair, gene replacement, protein replacement therapies, cell-based therapies. There is a whole spectrum of often complementary approaches that we believe will lead to a cure and treatment for this disease. We look forward to developing therapies which will be helpful to the benefit of all the patients with EB,” said Dr. Uitto, who is also chair of the department of dermatology and cutaneous biology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

EB research is gathering ‘momentum’

John McGrath, MD, professor of molecular dermatology, King’s College, London, chaired a session on the latest in cell manipulation research and made the following comment: “A few years ago, we were making progress, but we were chatting about a lot of the same things; but now, suddenly there seems to be momentum, re-energy, rediscovery, real progress.”

Dr. McGrath noted that gene and cell research, and preclinical development, were culminating in clinical trials and potentially products that could change the way clinicians thought about managing patients with EB. “That prospect of getting closer and closer to real treatments, and maybe even a cure” is becoming more of a reality, he said.

Dr. McGrath is also head of the genetic skin disease group at King’s College London, and an honorary consultant dermatologist at St. John’s Institute of Dermatology, part of the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London. He has been a principal investigator for clinical trials of fibroblast cell therapy and allogeneic intravenous mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) therapy.

“It has been a joy for me to see the benefits of those clinical trials. There is nothing like it as an investigator when you see an intervention make a difference to a patient,” Dr. McGrath said. “For me, it was just a real eye opener when I saw the skin changes in a child that received intravenous allogeneic MSCs. The skin changed dramatically, it went from red and inflamed to calm and pink, [giving a] first glimpse into something that might be reversible, treatable, not just papering over the cracks.”


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