In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found a drug treatment that may reduce the risk of death from the most serious complication of COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2 infection.
They showed prazosin, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved alpha-blocker that relaxes blood vessels may specifically target an extreme inflammatory process called cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) that mainly affects older adults with underlying health conditions.
CSS is linked to disease severity and increased risk of death in COVID-19 infection.
Using it to address COVID-19-related hyper-inflammation of the lungs and other organs has the potential to reduce deaths in the most vulnerable populations.
The research is from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. One author is Chetan Bettegowda, M.D., Ph.D.
The team had been working to identify chemical ways of safely blocking the actions of catecholamines and cytokine responses.
Together, catecholamines and cytokines enhance the inflammatory process that leads to severe COVID-19 symptoms.
In mouse models of CSS, the team found that prazosin—commonly used to treat blood pressure, prostate gland enlargement and other conditions—blocked catecholamines (hormones released by the adrenal glands when the body is under stress), reduced cytokine levels, and increased survival after exposure to agents that trigger cytokine storm responses similar to those observed in COVID-19.
Drugs that target CSS have been found to reduce the risk of death from other viral illnesses by up to 55%.
Prazosin is taken by mouth, costs less than $25 per month in the United States, and has been safely taken by millions of people over the last two decades.
This should enable highly expedited clinical trials in people early after exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, say the researchers.
The team cautions that although they believe if given early enough after viral exposure, the drug could prevent some deaths, it would not work in patients with advanced stages of the disease.
They also emphasize that controlled clinical trials for this novel use of prazosin are needed before it can be safely recommended.
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