In a new study, researchers found that a new potential therapy for COVID-19 has shown success in preventing the disease’s symptoms in the lab.
The drug proved effective in reducing fever, protecting the lungs, improving heart function and reversing cytokine storm — the immune system overreacting to infection and flooding the bloodstream with inflammatory proteins.
The researchers also report success in preventing the disease from progression.
The research was conducted by a team at Rush University Medical Center and elsewhere.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, binds to an enzyme called ACE2 to enter and infect human cells.
In response, the research team designed a drug (a peptide with six amino acids) that inhibits the virus from binding with ACE2.
Many patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units suffer from cytokine storm, which affects lungs, heart and other organs.
Although anti-inflammatory therapies such as steroids are available to treat the problem, very often these treatments cause suppression of the immune system.
The new drug inhibits cytokines that only are produced by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, not other inflammatory stimuli, indicating that this peptide would not cause immunosuppression.
Although vaccines for COVID-19 are becoming available, their distribution nationally and globally will take months and possibly years in some parts of the world.
In addition, vaccines may not entirely prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, despite flu vaccination, about 40,000 to 50,000 people die each year in the United States from the flu.
Therefore, a specific medicine for reducing inflammatory events and treating respiratory and cardiac problems caused by COVID-19 will be necessary for better management of the disease even in the post-vaccine era.
If the results can be replicated in COVID-19 patients, it would be a remarkable advance in controlling this devastating pandemic, the team says.
One author of the study is Kalipada Pahan, Ph.D., the Floyd A. Davis Professor of Neurology.
The study is published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
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