Benefits of cord blood transplantation include low rates of relapse and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). However, the use of cord blood is rapidly declining because of the high incidence of infections, severe acute GVHD, and transplant-related mortality. UM171, a haematopoietic stem cell self-renewal agonist, has been shown to expand cord blood stem cells and enhance multilineage blood cell reconstitution in mice. We aimed to investigate the safety and feasibility of single UM171-expanded cord blood transplantation in patients with haematological malignancies who do not have a suitable HLA-matched donor.

This single-arm, open-label, phase 1–2 safety and feasibility study was done at two hospitals in Canada. The study had two parts. In part 1, patients received two cord blood units (one expanded with UM171 and one unmanipulated cord blood) until UM171-expanded cord blood demonstrated engraftment. Once engraftment was documented we initiated part 2, reported here, in which patients received a single UM171-expanded cord blood unit with a dose de-escalation design to determine the minimal cord blood unit cell dose that achieved prompt engraftment. Eligible patients were aged 3–64 years, weighed 12 kg or more, had a haematological malignancy with an indication for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant and did not have a suitable HLA-matched donor, and a had a Karnofsky performance status score of 70% or more.

Our preliminary findings suggest that UM171 cord blood stem cell expansion is feasible, safe, and allows for the use of small single cords without compromising engraftment. UM171-expanded cord blood might have the potential to overcome the disadvantages of other cord blood transplants while maintaining the benefits of low risk of chronic GVHD and relapse, and warrants further investigation in randomised trials.