Feb 26, 2021

VetStem CEO Discusses Stem Cells and COVID-19 on Podcast

Posted by Bob under COVID-19, Stem Cells, VetStem

VetStem founder and CEO, Dr. Bob Harman, was recently featured on a San Diego-based podcast to discuss all things stem cells, including the current COVID-19 clinical trial developed by our human company, Personalized Stem Cells.

One Medicine: Animal Data Helping People

We have previously blogged about a concept we call “One Medicine,” also known as translational medicine, in which advances in the veterinary field lead to advances in human medicine. In the last year, this notion has really come to the forefront, as we were hit with the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is very common for human scientists and doctors to review data obtained from animals when developing a new drug or technology. In a previous blog, we discussed how animal data was utilized to expedite development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, evaluation of COVID-19 positive animals has helped researchers understand how the virus functions and how it is transmitted in various species.

A graphic of a chest and lungs on a black background. The lungs are highlighted blue implying inflammation from COVID-19 infection

Data from VetStem Patients Helps People with COVID-19

VetStem has also joined the ranks in the fight against COVID-19. In fact, it was VetStem’s 15+ years of veterinary stem cell data that led to the development of an FDA approved COVID-19 stem cell clinical trial in human patients. Our human stem cell company, Personalized Stem Cells, Inc., developed and received FDA approval for the clinical trial and then licensed it to Sorrento Therapeutics. The study is well underway and the preliminary results look very promising.

In addition to discussing our contributions to the COVID-19 clinical trial, Dr. Harman also discussed our work with exotics organizations and specifically mentions helping an arthritic Sun Bear at the San Diego Zoo. He gives a bit of history regarding VetStem’s formation, treating his border collie Ben, as well as his own treatment with stem cell therapy for a rotator cuff injury.

Click here to listen to the podcast!

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Jan 8, 2021

COVID-19 Transmission in Cats

Posted by Bob under Cats, COVID-19

As we begin 2021 and remain in the midst of a global pandemic, we wanted to revisit the topic of COVID-19 in animals. In previous blogs, we discussed the spread of the novel coronavirus from humans to animals and from animal to animal. While we know that animals can become infected with COVID-19, the CDC continues to report that there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 in Animals

You may remember that the first reported case of a pet with COVID-19 was a dog in Hong Kong. From there, more reports emerged of animals infected with the virus. In the United States, the first report of a COVID-19 positive animal was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo. Several other large cats at the facility went on to test positive in the following weeks. After that, it was two cats from separate households in New York, both of which likely contracted the virus from a COVID-19 positive owner. At the time, I remember wondering about the link between cats and COVID-19 and whether there was any significance there.

As the weeks and months went on, more and more reports of COVID-19 positive animals came out. Dogs, cats, minks, more exotic large cats. As of late December 2020, the USDA reported a total of 11 exotic cats (tigers, lions, and a snow leopard) and 54 domestic cats in the United States tested positive for COVID-19. This in comparison to a total of 38 COVID-19 positive dogs.

Cats Infected with COVID-19

While it is clear that some animals are more susceptible to the virus, there isn’t much information regarding COVID-19 within specific species. For instance, it is not currently clear how many COVID-19 positive cats experience symptoms. It appears that some cats have symptoms while others are asymptomatic. But we do not yet know why that is the case.

We also do not know the death rate in cats with COVID-19. There is news that a cat in Pennsylvania that had COVID-19 was humanely euthanized due to respiratory distress. There was another cat in Alabama that passed away and was COVID-19 positive however information suggests that the cat had additional health issues that were more likely the cause of death. Fortunately, it does not appear that cats are at high risk of death from COVID-19 infection. But more studies are necessary to understand how this virus affects our four-legged companions.

COVID-19 Transmission in Cats

In November, a study out of Kansas State University confirmed some of my suspicions regarding COVID-19 transmission in cats. The study concluded that cats infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can be asymptomatic and still easily spread the infection to other cats. The study found that the virus is shed through an asymptomatic cat’s nasal, oral, and rectal cavities and that they can infect other cats within 2 days of contracting the virus.

While more research is needed, this information is crucial to understanding how the virus is transmitted in cats. And though we mentioned it before, it is worth repeating: there is still no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID-19 to people. There is, however, significant evidence to suggest people spread the virus to animals. So, if you or a family member is suspected to have, or tests positive for, COVID-19, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with your pets.

More Studies Are Needed

There is still so much to learn about the novel coronavirus. More studies are underway to determine how this virus operates and what we can do to keep everyone, both ourselves and our pets, safe. For now, we will continue to do our best to keep ourselves and others healthy. At VetStem, we continue to follow our local ordinances by social distancing, wearing masks, and requiring employees to stay home if they have symptoms or exposure. Though these are scary and uncertain times, we hope that the start of 2021 finds you and your loved ones, two- and four-legged, happy and healthy.

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Jul 31, 2020

FDA Approved Stem Cell Clinical Trial for COVID-19

Posted by Bob under COVID-19, Stem Cell Therapy

It is with immense pride that we announce our human company, Personalized Stem Cells, recently received FDA approval to treat COVID-19 patients in an upcoming clinical trial. Read PSC’s blog below:

Personalized Stem Cells (PSC) recently received FDA approval to treat COVID-19 patients with stem cells in an upcoming clinical trial. In April, we announced that we filed an expedited IND at the request of the White House Coronavirus Task Force to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. This approval is incredibly significant because patients will be treated with disease-screened, quality tested donor cells as opposed to their own stem cells. This is known as allogeneic stem cell therapy and is different from PSC’s current FDA approved clinical trial in which patients receive their own stem cells (autologous) to treat knee osteoarthritis.

Stem Cell Therapy for COVID-19

PSC has become a leader in the field, recently publishing a landmark peer-reviewed scientific article on the rationale behind using stem cells to treat COVID-19. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have demonstrated the capacity to inhibit lung damage, reduce inflammation, dampen immune responses and aid with alveolar fluid clearance. Additionally, MSCs produce molecules that are antimicrobial and reduce pain. Recently, the application of MSCs in the context of ongoing COVID-19 disease and other viral respiratory illnesses has demonstrated reduced patient mortality and, in some cases, improved long-term pulmonary function.

Based on information out of Israel, China, Spain and the United States, stem cells have shown promising effectiveness in the treatment of the major medical lung issues caused by COVID-19. Israel recently announced 100% recovery in seven COVID-19 patients who were treated with stem cell therapy. Spanish medical investigators reported on an adipose stem cell study in which 13 COVID-19 patients were treated using a protocol very similar to the one just approved for PSC. According to the results, the mortality rate in the treated patients was significantly decreased.

FDA Approved Clinical Trial: CoronaStem 1

The initial clinical trial, named CoronaStem 1, will include 20 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in California. Once complete, PSC hopes to move into a larger Phase 2 clinical study and potentially into FDA Expanded Use programs or Emergency Use Authorization, which could allow for many more patients to be treated.

In order to rapidly ramp up the production of stem cells for use in the clinical trial, PSC collaborated with Calidi Biotherapeutics, a biotechnology company based in San Diego, California. Calidi provided disease-screened, quality stem cell lines to PSC, enabling us to accelerate the stem cell drug manufacturing process. In addition, sister company and CRO, VetStem Biopharma, provided manufacturing and regulatory support to help make FDA approval a reality.

PSC is not currently soliciting patients for inclusion in CoronaStem 1 due to the limited number of hospitals participating in the study. For more information regarding future clinical trials, please contact us here.

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Jul 24, 2020

July Update: COVID-19 in Animals in the United States

Posted by Bob under COVID-19

It has been a little over a month since our last update regarding COVID-19 and animals in the United States. Altogether, the USDA has reported 18 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in animals in the United States. Of these 18 cases, 7 of them were tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo. The remainder were domestic cats and dogs.  

Ben wearing his dad’s mask for a quick photo op.

On the whole, the narrative remains the same as our previous updates. Based upon the limited number of confirmed positive cases, there are several probable conclusions we can draw:

1. Dogs and cats (as well as other species) can contract COVID-19

2. Most infected pets presumably contracted the virus from an infected pet owner/caregiver

3. Symptoms in dogs and cats tend to be mild, if not completely absent

4. Dogs and cats do not appear to be a source of COVID-19 and the risk of animals spreading the virus to humans appears to be low

With this information, the best we can do is be prepared. According to the CDC and the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are some steps we can take to ensure the well being of ourselves and our families, both 2- and 4-legged.

  • Do not allow pets to interact with people or other animals outside of the home. Keep dogs on a leash and cats indoors and practice social distancing. Avoid public places where large groups of people and animals gather such as dog parks.
  • If you or a household member become sick with COVID-19, whether suspected or confirmed, avoid interaction with your pets as much as possible. If you must interact, wash your hands before and after interaction, wear a face covering (mask), and do not share items such as food, dishes, bedding, or towels.
  • It is wise to prepare an emergency kit for your pets should you be required to quarantine. The AVMA recommends your kit include at least 2 weeks’ worth of food and any needed medications. Additional items to include may be bedding, toys, and any other items to help keep your pet(s) healthy and happy.

For up-to-date information and other resources regarding animals and COVID-19, you can visit the AVMA website and CDC website.

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Jun 12, 2020

An Update on COVID-19 in Animals in the United States

Posted by Bob under COVID-19

As the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, we are still learning about how the virus may affect our pets. Since our last COVID-19 blog, there have been some additional developments regarding infected animals in the United States. We have shared some details below and will continue to provide relevant updates.

Update on Pug in North Carolina

In our last blog, we mentioned a pug in North Carolina who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Winston’s human family had all tested positive for COVID-19 so when he began to show signs of respiratory illness, his family took him to the vet. At that time, he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 however confirmatory testing was still being done by the USDA National Veterinary Service Laboratory (NVSL).

It was recently announced however that the confirmatory testing came back negative. These results suggest that Winston was contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, likely from close interaction with his human family, however the contamination did not develop into an active infection. The virus did not enter his bloodstream or respiratory tract and according to the USDA, there was no evidence of an immune response.

German Shepherd in New York

The good news about Winston comes with the news of another dog who has become the first official positive case of COVID-19 in a dog in the United States. A German shepherd living in New York showed symptoms of respiratory illness and was later confirmed COVID-19 positive by the USDA NVSL. One of the dog’s owners is COVID-19 positive while the other owner had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Another dog in the household had no symptoms of illness however antibodies were detected in samples suggesting exposure to the virus. The German shepherd is expected to make a full recovery.

Cats Test Positive in Minnesota and Illinois

In addition to the German shepherd, two more cats have recently tested positive for COVID-19. One cat is in Minnesota, the other in Illinois, and both live with owners who also tested positive for the virus. Both are also the first animals in their respective states to test positive for coronavirus.

Update on Tigers and Lions at Bronx Zoo

As we reported previously, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in an animal in the United States was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo. Shortly after, a lion at the zoo also tested positive. Several of the large cats were exhibiting symptoms and it was recently reported that additional testing confirmed 4 more tigers and 2 more lions were also positive for COVID-19. It is presumed that the large cats were exposed by a zookeeper who was actively shedding the virus. All of the infected cats are reportedly recovering well.

We Still Have More to Learn

We are still learning about this virus and how it may affect animals. At this time, it appears that animals may contract the virus from infected humans however animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the virus. The CDC and AVMA continue to recommend avoiding contact with your pets if you have COVID-19.

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May 8, 2020

An Update Regarding Pets and COVID-19

Posted by Bob under COVID-19

In a recent blog, we discussed animals from around the world who tested positive for COVID-19. To summarize, the number of positive cases were few and all shared one commonality: they were in close contact with a human caregiver/owner who was infected with COVID-19. Of the small number of cases, even fewer showed clinical signs. While one 17-year-old dog passed away, it was presumed that he died from ongoing health issues and other age-related concerns. The rest of the animals recovered, or were expected to recover, without incident. According to the CDC, “Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.”

Lion at the Bronx Zoo

In the weeks since that blog was published, a small number of new cases have been reported. As reported in the previous blog, the first case that was confirmed and reported in the United States was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo. The tiger, along with several other large cats, developed a dry cough and reduced appetite. One of the affected large cats, a lion, was tested a few weeks after the tiger and tested positive for COVID-19. It is believed that the animals were infected by a human caregiver who did not have symptoms but was actively shedding the virus. The affected cats are reported to be recovering well and no other animals at the zoo have shown symptoms.

Two Cats in New York

In addition, two domestic cats in New York have now tested positive for COVID-19. The cats were from different households and cities and both showed symptoms of respiratory disease. One cat lives in a household with an owner who has COVID-19 and a second cat that has had no clinical signs of illness.

The second cat to test positive for COVID-19 in New York is an indoor/outdoor cat. The cat does not live with an owner who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. It is suspected that this cat contracted COVID-19 from an owner who was asymptomatic or from contact with the virus outside of the home.

Pug in North Carolina

Making headlines recently was a pug in North Carolina who showed symptoms of respiratory disease and tested positive for COVID-19. The pug’s human family all have COVID-19 however another dog and a cat in the same house were negative. His owners stated, “(The dog) licks all of our dinner plates and sleeps in my mom’s bed, and we’re the ones who put our faces into his face. So, it makes sense that he got (coronavirus).” Confirmatory testing is still being conducted at USDA’s National Veterinary Service Laboratory. If those tests are confirmed, the case will be reported to the OIE – the World Organization for Animal Health. Winston, the pug, is already doing better.

The number of animals who have tested positive for COVID-19 remains low, thus the CDC does not currently recommend routine testing. If your pet is exhibiting symptoms of infection, call your veterinary provider. If you or a family member is sick, the CDC recommends you avoid contact and practice cleanliness when interacting with your pets. The CDC also recommends keeping cats indoors and dogs on leashes, avoiding interaction between your pets and other pets/humans, and avoiding places like dog parks and other areas where people and dogs gather.

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May 1, 2020

PSC Prepares to Launch COVID-19 Clinical Trial – You Can Help

Posted by Bob under COVID-19, Stem Cell Therapy

Our human stem cell company, Personalized Stem Cells, Inc. (PSC), recently announced that they filed a request with the FDA for expedited review of an Investigational New Drug (IND) application for the treatment of COVID-19 patients with stem cells. PSC was asked by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to apply for expedited review through a new FDA program called the Coronavirus Therapeutic Accelerator Program (CTAP). CTAP was launched to help expedite the approval process of clinical trials for promising COVID-19 therapies.

Stem Cells for COVID-19

Recent studies evaluating the effects of stem cell therapy in COVID-19 patients have come out of China and Israel showing strikingly positive results. Stem cells have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to reduce scar tissue formation. Stem cell therapy has the potential to reduce the serious lung complications that occur as a result of infection with COVID-19. The goal of treatment is to reduce time spent in the ICU, reduce ventilator needs, and increase chances of survival for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

PSC has scaled up production of stem cells in their FDA-inspected facilities to be ready to provide stem cell treatments upon FDA approval. If approved, the initial COVID-19 clinical trial, termed “CoronaStem 1,” will provide treatment for twenty hospitalized COVID-19 patients with serious complications. The first trial will be conducted in a limited number of local San Diego hospitals. PSC anticipates additional approvals and potential compassionate use in the future to allow for many more patients to be treated.

How can you help?

As a small business, PSC is utilizing their own resources to ramp up stem cell production. However, supplies and laboratory technicians are necessary to further increase production of stem cells. PSC plans to provide stem cell treatments to COVID-19 patients at no cost to the patient which requires additional money to pay the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who will be performing the clinical trial. Thus, PSC is reaching out to the public for donations to help in this fight against COVID-19. Your tax-deductible donation will allow PSC to provide stem cell treatments for as many COVID-19 patients as possible. All donations will go towards increasing stem cell production and paying doctors, nurses, technicians, and all those involved in performing the medical procedures for the clinical trial.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all, many of us are looking for ways in which we can help. PSC has partnered with the San Diego Foundation, a 501c3 organization, to collect tax-deductible donations to further PSC’s efforts. Learn more about how your donation can help PSC fight COVID-19.

You can make a difference! Click here to donate today.

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Apr 10, 2020

Zoo Animal Care During COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted by Bob under COVID-19

As you may know, VetStem has worked with several wild animal organizations over the years.  One example is Francis, a Sun Bear at the San Diego Zoo who received VetStem Cell Therapy.  Like dogs, cats, and horses, exotic animals are near and dear to us.  We previously posted a blog about caring for your dogs and cats during the COVID-19 pandemic but what about the zoo animals?

Due to the current stipulations in place regarding social distancing, zoos and aquariums across the United States have closed to the public.  While non-essential employees may be working from home, the animals still need care.  The animal care staff continues to provide routine care to the best of their ability.  Non-emergency procedures have been postponed, such as preventative care and routine vaccinations, in cases where the procedures require more than one person to work closely together.  But otherwise, the care continues.

Due to interruptions in supply chains, some food sources might become scarce or temporarily unavailable.  While this might sound scary, zoos and aquariums have safeguards in place to help prevent this from becoming a problem.  For instance, the platypuses, which are currently on display at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are very picky eaters and prefer live crayfish.  Zookeepers are working with the animals to introduce various options into their diets, should live crayfish become unavailable.

While we continue to live in unprecedented and uncertain times, rest assured knowing the animals we love so much are being well cared for.  Zoos have said the animal caretakers are providing extra enrichment opportunities and exercises to help make up for the lack of interaction from visitors.  In fact, several zoos and aquariums have set up live broadcasts and videos showing various animals.  In one exceptionally cute video from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, the resident penguins take a trip to meet the beluga whales.  We encourage you to check your local zoo’s website or Facebook page for fun and interactive videos.  Or you can view some of the larger zoos’ videos such as the San Diego Zoo’s Live Cams or the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Webcams.

Francis
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Apr 3, 2020

How Animals Are Helping Humans During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted by Bob under COVID-19, Translational Medicine

In previous blogs, we have discussed the concept of translational medicine.  That is, when successes in one branch of medicine influence and translate into advances made in another branch of medicine.  We are a veterinary company with a sister human company, therefore we specifically focus on the way veterinary medicine translates to human medicine; a concept we refer to as “One Medicine.”  Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen several instances in which the veterinary community has assisted human healthcare providers.

Veterinarians Helping Human Doctors

While the current climate in which we are living has tested many of us, we have also seen people come together in ways that are truly unprecedented.  There have been several news stories highlighting the ways in which veterinarians are helping human doctors.  According to one article, veterinary hospitals in several states have donated or lent vital equipment and supplies to help human doctors in the fight against COVID-19.  These supplies include ventilators, masks, and gowns, all of which are or may be in short supply.  

According to the American Veterinary Medical association (AVMA), conservation of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, and gloves is critical due to the increased demand and subsequent shortage.  The AVMA, CDC, and FDA have all provided strategies for conserving personal protective equipment and veterinarians have already implemented protocols to conserve these essential supplies.  For instance, several veterinary hospitals have restricted or completely ceased all elective surgical procedures and have taken steps to minimize contact with pet owners, thus reducing the need for personal protective equipment.

Use of Animal Data to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

Translational medicine is not new, however it tends to stand out in trying times like these.  In a previous blog, we discussed the use of animal data when developing a new human drug or technology.  According to a press release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), scientists have already begun a Phase 1 clinical trial to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.  The vaccine being tested has shown promise in animal models and this is the first time it is being tested in humans.

One Medicine

In these unprecedented times, we are seeing communities and people come together to help one another in ways some of us never thought possible.  While veterinarians all over the U.S. are doing their part to assist in the fight against COVID-19, we at VetStem have also joined the fight.  In an effort to reduce person-to-person contact, several of our employees have been working from home.  It is important to note however that as a provider of critical medicines, our laboratory continues to operate and process all stem cell requests.  Feel free to contact us with any questions.

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Mar 27, 2020

Caring for Pets During Self-Isolation

Posted by Bob under COVID-19

With the current COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures being enacted, many of us find ourselves working from home and spending most, if not all, of our time indoors.  According to the most recent report from the AVMA, nearly 57% of all US households own a pet.  So, while some may be worried about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, what about our furry friends? 

Maintaining physical exercise is not only important for ourselves but for our pets as well.  In a previous blog, we discussed the potential benefits of regular walks for your dog.  Follow local ordinances regarding social distancing and use your best judgement when it comes to exercising your dog outside during the current pandemic.  If you find that you cannot continue your usual routine, consider additional ways to keep your pet active.

Playing games such as fetch and tug-of-war may be good ways to keep your dog both physically and mentally stimulated.  Toys that require your dog to chew or uncover treats can also help with mental stimulation.  Similarly, cats may also enjoy playing with toys as a form of physical and mental stimulation.  Additionally, there are many videos online that show how to teach your dog or cat new tricks.

It may also be a wise decision to consider an emergency kit for your pets.  Your kit can include food, treats, medications, toys, blanket or bed, and anything that you might need for your pet.  Many veterinary hospitals remain open however several have modified services and/or hours.  Check with your veterinarian to determine if they are still open and what their current operating protocol is so that you can plan accordingly.    

The good news is the CDC is currently reporting that there is no evidence that companion animals can spread, or are a source of, COVID-19.  See our recent blog for more information on COVID-19 and pets.  And as a reminder to our clients and potential clients, as a critical medicines provider, VetStem remains open to process all stem cell requests.  Click here to locate a VetStem provider in your area.

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