First Stem Cell Therapy Recommended for Approval in European Union

The EMA, which is short for the European Medicines Agency, has recommended approval for a treatment called Holoclar.  Holoclar is the first therapy product that contains stem cells to be recommended for approval in the European Union (EU). Holoclar is being marketed as a treatment for moderate to severe limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) due to physical or chemical burns to the eye in adults. In fact, Holoclar is the first medicine recommended for LSCD, a condition that can result in blindness.

Holoclar can be transplanted into the eye after removal of the corneal epithelium (the outer layer of the cornea). Holoclar is made from a biopsy taken from a small, undamaged area of the patient’s cornea. These limbal stem cells are then grown in the laboratory using cell culture techniques. Holoclar is a potential alternative to transplantation for replacing altered corneal epithelium. Clnical trials with Holoclar have been shown to increase the chances of a successful corneal transplant where the injury has caused extensive eye damage. Holoclar is produced by Chiesi, a pharmaceutical company based in Parma, Italy.

The recommendation to approve Holoclar was made by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). CHMP made their recommendation on basis of the benefits of Holoclar, which are its ability to repair the damaged ocular surface, to improve or resolve symptoms of pain, photophobia and burning and to improve the patient’s visual acuity. This assessment was the work of the Committee for Advanced Therapies (CAT). The approved indication for Holoclar is: “Treatment of adult patients with moderate to severe limbal stem cell deficiency (defined by the presence of superficial corneal neovascularisation in at least two corneal quadrants, with central corneal involvement, and severely impaired visual acuity), unilateral or bilateral, due to physical or chemical ocular burns. A minimum of 1-2 square millimeters of undamaged limbus is required for biopsy.” CAT and CHMP considered that Holoclar provided a first treatment option for LSCD and recommended a conditional marketing authorization. The authorization is conditional because the clinical data available for Holoclar is based on studies that are ongoing as treated patients are watched after their eye surgery. This the data collection is not yet comprehensive, and additional study on the use of Holoclar needs to be conducted.

The opinion adopted by the CHMP at its December 2014 meeting is an intermediary step on Holoclar’s path to patient access. The CHMP opinion will now be sent to the European Commission for a decision on an EU-wide marketing authorization.

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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).