US immunotherapy company CytoSorbents Corporation has partnered with a Chinese pharma business to bring an established medical device to mainland China to treat critically-ill coronavirus patients.

The New Jersey-based firm will initially donate its flagship CytoSorb filter, which is used for blood purification procedures to reduce inflammation that can fatally damage tissues and organs, to four hospitals in Wuhan – the city at the centre of the global pandemic that has infected more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,000 to date.


How CytoSorbents will help treat coronavirus

Working alongside Hong Kong-based China Medical System Holdings Limited (CMS), it will then seek to commercialise the treatment should the duo succeed in obtaining regulatory clearance under a fast-track review process introduced in response to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus – which is code-named Covid-19 and carries flu-like symptoms.

CytoSorbents will also provide product training and support for its blood purification technology, which has been used in more than 80,000 global treatments.

It will be used alongside both continuous renal replacement therapy – which replaces the normal blood-filtering function of the kidneys – and the respiratory support technique known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for severely ill patients.

CytoSorbents vice-president of business development Chris Cramer said: “We are excited to collaborate with CMS to bring CytoSorb to the patients and physicians in China that are dealing with this devastating Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“To date, this infection has killed approximately two to three out of every 100 patients it infects, mainly by causing severe lung injury in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), shock and multi-organ failure.

“Though CytoSorb has not yet been used to specifically treat patients infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus, it has been used to help treat shock, ARDS, multi-organ failure, and other complications of cytokine storm and excessive, deadly inflammation in thousands of patients with both bacterial and viral infection – and sepsis – across the world.”


Why CytoSorbents believes its treatment will help severely ill coronavirus patients

A study by Chaolin Huang et al in medical journal The Lancet found that the most seriously ill coronavirus patients admitted to intensive care units showed significantly higher levels of inflammatory cytokines compared to those who weren’t admitted.

Known as a cytokine storm, this syndrome describes an overproduction of immune cells and their activating compounds, or cytokines, which can both sicken and kill patients infected with certain strains of flu virus.

Like in previous pandemics including SARS and MERS, cytokine storm can trigger a viral sepsis in coronavirus infection, leading to pneumonia, ARDS, shock, multi-organ failure, respiratory failure and potentially death.

Other recent studies have shown how extracorporeal blood purification therapy can be effective in coronavirus.

The technique involves passing blood through a device – such as a sorbent, a material that absorbs or adsorbs liquids or gases – to remove toxins or waste products, primarily for renal failure patients.

CytoSorbents, which trades on the Nasdaq Stock Market in New York City, says this provides the rationale to potentially use CytoSorb, the first specifically-approved extracorporeal cytokine adsorber in the European Union, in this setting.

The filter is attached to a hospital’s existing blood-pumping equipment and uses a cylindrical cartridge of tiny polymer beads to remove toxins from a patient’s circulatory system – thus helping reduce inflammation.

This can alleviate the cytokine storm and avoid its life-threatening complications, as well as help with stabilising circulation and increasing the chance of recovery.

It has been sold in 58 countries worldwide and used in more than 800 clinical departments.


Role of China Medical System Holdings in bringing CytoSorb to China

CMS, which trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, claims to be a “well-established, innovation-driven specialty pharma with a focus on sales and marketing in China and Asia”. It recorded a turnover of 5.43bn Chinese yuan ($773m) in 2018.

With a focus on research and development of innovative drugs, it aims to find products and services for China’s “unmet medical needs”.

General manager of global investment and operations Dr Huaizheng Peng said: “CMS looks forward to working with CytoSorbents to bring its innovative CytoSorb blood purification therapy to the forefront of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We do so with a sense of social responsibility to help those stricken at the epicentre of the outbreak, just one of the many areas in China that we serve.

“We believe that CytoSorb may provide physicians with a powerful new approach to help patients who are suffering from severe coronavirus infection.”