DETROIT – While much of the attention is focused on efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine, there is also an intense effort underway to find more effective treatments.
The fastest path to finding better treatments is looking at drugs that are already approved for different conditions.
We know that people who get the sickest with SARS-CoV-2 viral infection are people whose immune system actually overreacts to the presence of the virus.
NIH director Francis Collins said the new study will focus on drugs to help calm down an overreacting immune system.
“Think about the virus like a fire in your house -- maybe it’s not a terribly big fire and your sprinklers turn on to put the fire out and sometimes they put the fire out, but then the sprinklers keep going and you end up with more water damage than you actually had from the fire,” Collins said.
The goal is to find drugs to act like the control panel for the sprinklers that are able to turn them down when the flames are out.
The NIH study is testing Remicade, which is currently used to treat Crohn’s Disease; Orencia, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis; and Cenicriviroc, an investigational drug by AbbVie
Patients in the clinical trial will randomly receive one of the three drugs or a placebo.
“Three different drugs -- two of them have already been in use for a long time for other conditions but might be just the thing here,” Collins said. “One of them is a new drug but has also been in trials for other purposes and we’ll find out whether these can help the sickest people where we most need to save their lives.”
Collins stresses, the best thing to do is avoid having people fall ill in the first place.
“It’s really troubling to see how things are going up so steeply and we all have a lot of work to do to get this turned around again,” Collins said.
All of the patients enrolled in the clinical trial will also receive Remdesivir, which is now standard in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
They can also receive the steroid Dexamethasone or convalescent plasma at their doctor’s discretion, so these drugs are being tested in addition to the other treatments we currently have -- not in place of.
The trial is scheduled to last about six months, but an independent review board will be monitoring the results at various points, and if they see a clear benefit from one or more of the drugs, that information could be available much sooner.