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Cord Blood Connect 2022 - Meeting Highlights


 Cord Blood Connect 2022 - Meeting Highlights

Sep 9-11, 2022, Miami FL

Wouter Van’t Hof, PhD
Contributing Editor
Cleveland Cord Blood Center, USA

The 2022 Annual Cord Blood Connect meeting was held in Miami, Florida on September 9-11, the first in-person meeting since 2020. Cord Blood Connect represents a multinational group of cord blood banks, investigators, clinicians, and banking service providers, acting in partnership with the Cord Blood Association (CBA).

Propelled by the development and diversification the cord blood field is currently experiencing, the congress co-chairs, Joanne Kurtzberg, Karen Ballen, and Marcie Finney, put together an enticing and diverse program of interest to all stakeholders sharing the mission of therapeutic use of cord blood for patients in need. In addition to the better-known themes of cord blood transplant for treatment of hematologic malignancies and improving access to cord blood units  (CBU), and standardized testing and use of CBU, the meeting included sessions on cord blood expansion technologies in clinical testing, evaluation of novel cord blood therapeutics and cord blood use beyond hematopoietic transplant, and how this can enable a broader scope of activity for private and public cord blood banks alike.

The full content of topics and presented abstracts are available to view online.

This report will highlight three especially interesting and moving sessions.

The opening plenary session was dedicated to honoring Hal Broxmeyer, the well-known and widely respected and beloved cord blood pioneer, who passed away late 2021. Three presentations by his trainees Jim Ropa, Maegan Capitano, and his long-time lab associate Scott Cooper, touched upon Hal’s contributions to scientific areas of his interest, including cytokines and mechanisms of hematopoiesis, Hal’s history as a generous and encouraging mentor, and his involvement in facilitating the first cord blood transplant in Paris in 1988. It was a wonderful and moving expose of Hal as a personality very much driven in all areas of interest to him, be it counting hundreds of CFU plates using his trusted microscope or competitive weightlifting (with its unique outfits). The vibrant memory of Hal was further amplified by Eliane Gluckman who talked about her connection with Hal in the build up to the first transplant in Paris, and by the exceptional testimony of Matthew Farrow, the recipient of that very first clinical cord blood transplant that enabled a rich life experience to him as a Fanconi Anemia patient. In all, the session was beautifully orchestrated and presented in a manner that truly honored the full extent of Hal Broxmeyer as the great man and scientist he was. Although he will be missed, there is a shared comfort in his continued presence through the legacy he created by the strength of his science and maybe even more so through his caring mentorship.

Another noteworthy event was the Q&A session with Peter Marks, Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) at the FDA. Questions centered on the need for harmonizing donor eligibility and testing requirements between cord blood and blood/tissue donors, especially relating to Zika virus and between the US and EU. Dr. Marks acknowledged that these matters require attention (“the FDA is aware and agrees”) and informed the audience to expect FDA guidance updates in the fall of 2022. This was certainly most welcome news to the cord blood audience, currently struggling to deal with no longer relevant Zika transmission prevention measures limiting ability to release units for transplant. Other topics included the benefits of applying the right of reference concept to avoid isolated and variable FDA reviews of manufacturers sharing the same technologies, the need for re-evaluation of the regulatory path for closed systems/point of care manufacturing devices, and whether time of expansion matters for expanded cord blood products (“No, risk increases already after the first 2 passages”). Although Dr. Marks acknowledged he had limited ability to provide direct answers to most of the questions, there was a sense of acknowledgement and openness in expressing areas where US regulations with respect to cell therapies and biologics require updating to today’s circumstances and alignment abroad. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues at the FDA Town Hall on Sep 29, 2022, where CBER’s of Tissues and Advanced Therapies (OTAT) will host a virtual town hall to answer stakeholder questions related to gene therapy chemistry, manufacturing, and controls (CMC).  

Lastly, a plenary session on Banking and Transplantation in Times of Crisis - natural disasters, war and other man-made calamities reminded most in attendance of a certain unsettling relativeness of current challenges in cord blood banking and transplant, real as they are. This was exemplified by the Japanese experience with earthquakes and tsunamis, and the deeply disturbing current reality of the Ukrainian cord blood bank. A deeply moving presentation by Yaroslav Isakov, founder of Hemafund in the Ukraine, sent the message of a deep and profound desire to continue operations for cord blood collection and transplant any way possible, with Russian tanks in the street and fighting troops visible from the processing and storage facilities, as a means to maintain a sense of purpose and normalcy while in the middle of the madness of war and as an expression of the absolute unwillingness of Ukraine to accept the Russian occupation. The presentation was answered with a long, standing ovation from the audience. During his presentation Dr. Isakov stated how he and his staff had found strength and courage through the messages from support, including one of the first messages received from the Cord Blood Association.

In all, this was a very thoughtfully planned meeting that provided many first or long overdue face to face meetings between all the participating cord blood/cell therapy scientists, clinicians, bankers and developers. We look forward to the 2023 meeting!