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Breakthrough drug might cure COVID-19 in just five days

Updated Feb 8th, 2021 11:56AM EST
Coronavirus Cure
Image: Mongkolchon/Adobe

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  • Researchers from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center developed a coronavirus therapy that was found to cure COVID-19 in 3-5 days in most volunteers who received the drug.
  • EXO-CD24 is a medication delivered directly to the lungs, where it’ll help prevent the immune system dealing with COVID-19 from overreacting and causing complications.
  • The drug is administered once a day for five minutes via inhalation. In Phase 1 trials, 29 out of 30 people suffering from moderate to severe COVID-19 recovered within 3-5 days, and all of them survived.

It’s too early to call it a miracle cure, but if the conclusions from a recent Phase 1 trial for a new drug called EXO-C24 are backed up in subsequent trials, we might have the first true breakthrough therapy for COVID-19. That’s in addition to coronavirus vaccines, of course, which will help prevent severe COVID-19 cases and deaths, and even reduce the spread of the illness. But while vaccines can give the immune system a heads-up to the threat it might have to deal with — the real virus — they have a few limitations. First of all, they don’t work on infected people. Secondly, vaccine supply is still limited and vaccinations aren’t available to anybody who might want one. Then there’s the threat of coronavirus mutations that might reduce vaccines’ effect on the virus and extend the pandemic.

But if EXO-C24 can indeed help most coronavirus patients recover within five days, then the drug would not just save more lives. It would also complement vaccines and help address mutations. The drug is meant to calm the immune response that can be deadly in COVID-19 — the so-called cytokine storms — and should have the same effect regardless of how SARS-CoV-2 evolves.

In a Phase 1 trial at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center, EXO-C24 showed that it could cure 29 out of 30 recipients within 3-5 days. All 30 COVID-19 patients recovered after developing moderate to severe COVID-19.

The problem with COVID-19 recovery is that the immune system can develop an exacerbated reaction in at-risk groups, leading to multiple organ failure and death. The phenomenon is called a cytokine storm, and it’s usually deadly.

The hospital conducting the Phase 1 trial described the success as a “huge breakthrough,” according to Time of Israel.

EXO-C24 isn’t an anti-viral that goes after the virus, looking to eliminate it. The immune system can do that on its own, and that’s why many people recover from COVID-19 even without treatment. This drug deals with the cytokine storm, preventing the overreaction from taking place.

The drug uses exosomes, tiny carriers that can move materials between cells to deliver the CD24 protein to the lungs. That’s a protein that professor Nadir Arber spent decades researching.

“The preparation is inhaled once a day for a few minutes, for five days,” Arber told The Times. “The preparation is directed straight to the heart of the storm — the lungs — so unlike other formulas… which selectively restrain a certain cytokine, or operate widely but cause many serious side effects, EXO-CD24 is administered locally, works broadly and without side effects.”

“This protein is located on the surface of cells and has a well known and important role in regulating the immune system,” researcher Shiran Shapira told the paper.

The drug will move to the next phases of research, which should provide additional efficacy and safety data. Like vaccines, EXO-CD24 will have to receive emergency authorization before it can be used as a COVID-19 therapy. What’s also exciting is the prospect of using the drug to combat other illnesses that can lead to cytokine storms and death.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.