The RENEW clinical trial has examined the ability of “CD34+” stem cells from bone marrow to alleviate the symptoms of refractory angina.
Angina pectoris is a crushing chest pain that afflicts people when the heart receives too little oxygen to support it for the workload placed upon it. Angina pectoris typically results from the blockage of coronary arteries as a result of atherosclerosis. Treatment of angina pectoris usually includes PCI or percutaneous coronary intervention, which involves the placement of a stent in the narrowed coronary artery, in combination with drug treatments like beta blockers, and/or cardiac nitrate (e.g., nitroglycerine).
Angina pectoris is also classified according to the severity of the disease. The Canadian Cardiovascular Society grading of angina pectoris (which is very similar to the New York Heart Association classification) uses four classes (I-IV) to classify the disease. Patients with Class I angina only experience pain during strenuous or prolonged physical activity. Those with Class II angina have a slight limitation in physical activity and experience pain during vigorous physical activity (climbing several flights of stairs). Class III angina manifests as pain during everyday living activities, such as climbing one flight of stairs. These patients experience moderate limitation of their physical activity. Those with Class IV angina experience pain at rest and are unable to perform any activity without angina, and therefore, suffer from severe limitations on their activity.
Refractory angina pectoris (also known as chronic symptomatic coronary artery disease) stubbornly resists medical therapy and is unamenable to conventional revascularization procedures. Patients with refractory angina pectoris have reproducible lifestyle-limiting symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, and easy fatigability.
The results of the RENEW clinical trial were presented at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions 2016 sessions. Even though the trial was prematurely ended for financial reasons, the results that were collected suggest that cell-based therapies might provide relief for suffers of refractory angina pectoris.
RENEW tested the effectiveness of the intravenous infusion of the protein called granulocyte-colony simulating factor (G-CSF), which mobilizes CD34+ stem cells from the bone marrow. Once summoned from the bone marrow, CD34+ stem cells can help establish new blood vessels and increase blood flow throughout the heart. CD34+ stem cells also seem to have some ability to home to sites of damage. Therefore, G-CSF infusions might provide some relief to patients with refractory angina pectoris.
Dr. Timothy D. Henry of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angles, CA, said: “Clinicians are seeing more RA (refractory angina) patients because people are living longer. Unfortunately, despite better medical care, these people are still confronting ongoing symptoms that affect their daily lives.”
Patients enrolled in the RENEW trial had either class III or IV angina and experiences ~7 chest pain episodes each week. These patients were also not candidates for revascularization (PCI) and their treadmill exercise times were between 3-10 minutes.
112 RA patients were randomly broken into three groups. Group 1 received standard care (28), group 2 received placebo injections (27), and group 3 received treatment with CD34+ cells. The trial was double-blinded and placebo controlled. The original aim was to test 444 RA patients, but financial concerns truncated the study at 112 patients.
All patients were assessed at three, six, 12, and 24 months after treatment by means of exercise tolerance, anginal attacks, and major adverse cardiovascular events (MACEs).
The cell-treated patients increased their exercise times by more than two minutes at three (average 122-second increase), six (average 142-second increase), and twelve (average 124-second increase) months. This is significant, since the other two groups showed no significant increase in their exercise times.
Patients in the cell-treated group also experienced 40 percent fewer anginal attacks at six months relative to the placebo-treated group.
At two years after the treatment, the CD34+-treated group have lower mortality rates (3.7 percent) compared to those who received standard care (7.1 percent) and those who received the placebo (10 percent).
Finally, after two years, the cell-treated group had lower MACE rates (46 percent) than the standard care group (68 percent). The MACE rate for the placebo-treated group was 43 percent.
On the strength of these results, Dr. Henry said, “Cell therapy appears to be a promising approach for these patients who have few options. Our results were consistent with phase 2 results from the ACT34 trial (author’s note: which gave patients infusions of cells and not G-CSF).”
Tom Povsic of the Duke Clinical Research Institute said of the RENEW trial, “It is unfortunate the early termination of this study precludes a full evaluation of the efficacy of this therapy for these patients with very few options. Studies like RENEW are critical to developing reliable and effective therapies for heart patients, and continued cellular therapies for heart patients, and continued funding is essential to advancing the work that this study began. We need to find a way to bring these therapies as quickly as safely as possible.”
Dr. Povsic’s words certainly ring true. Even though the results of the RENEW study are essentially positive, RENEW was planed to be almost three times the size of Douglas Losordo’s earlier, successful ACT34 study. The results of both the ACT34 and RENEW studies are largely positive. Perhaps more importantly, both studies have also established that cell-based treatments for RA patients are safe. However, given the voracity of the FDA for clinical data before it will approve a treatment, even for patients with few current options, it is unlikely that these studies will prove large enough to satisfy the agency. Until a very large study shows cell-based treatments to be not only safe but efficacious, only then will the mighty turtle known as the FDA approve such treatments for RA patients.