RNA Cell Therapy for COVID-19 Related ARDS in Development

Cartesian Therapeutics has created its therapy, Descartes-30, the first RNA cell therapy for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and the company is now recruiting for a clinical trial.

Before COVID-19, the mortality rate for ARDS was relatively high. In 1 study looking at hospitalized patients with ARDS they reported that mortality up to 1 year was found to be 41%.1 And with the introduction of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, ARDS became a more common complication for COVID-19 patients with severe disease. COVID-19-related ARDS exacerbated the severity of the complication, and has been reported to have a mortality rate between 39% and up to 73% in a few studies. 2

Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Cartesian Therapeutics, a small clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, has created its RNA cell therapy, Descartes-30, the first such therapy for ARDS. Descartes-30 is part of the company’s proprietary RNA Armory combination therapy platform.

“The overarching vision behind the Armory is to be able to RNA engineer any cell to deliver to any part of the body any combination of therapies where we are using the cell both as a factory for producing as well as a vehicle for delivering not just one therapeutic but multiple—right to the site of disease,” Murat Kalayoglu, MD, PhD, president and chief executive officer at Cartesian Therapeutics, said.

Descartes-30 is a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy engineered to secrete 2 DNases that degrade neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), which are key drivers of several respiratory, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. The MSC acts both as a protein factory, by producing therapeutic DNases for an extended period, and as a vehicle to deliver those therapeutics directly to the lungs, where NETs accumulate.

Last month, Cartesian announced a $2 million competitive research and development award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to support its clinical development for Descartes-30, the first RNA cell therapy for respiratory diseases.

The company is enrolling patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS, including those with COVID-19, for a phase 1/2 clinical trial.

Contagion spoke to Kalayoglu to understand the differences in the RNA vs DNA engineered therapies, insights into the company’s RNA Armory combination therapy platform, and progress on their clinical trial.


1 Chen Yu Wang Carolyn S Calfee, et al. One-year mortality and predictors of death among hospital survivors of acute respiratory distress syndrome. Intensive Care Med. 2014 Mar;40(3):388-96. doi: 10.1007/s00134-013-3186-3

2 Syed Shahzad Hasan,Toby Capstick, et al. Mortality in COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome and corticosteroids use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2020;1-15. doi: 10.1080/17476348.2020.1804365

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