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Stanford has a coronavirus therapy that might prevent severe cases

Published May 11th, 2020 3:24PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: Adela Loconte/Shutterstock

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  • Researchers at Stanford have a new coronavirus treatment idea: Giving patients who have been just diagnosed COVID-19 positive an interferon drug version within three days of the test.
  • The trial is seeking 120 volunteers who haven’t been admitted to a hospital after their positive diagnosis. They will be given either the drug or a placebo, and then they’ll be monitored over nine successive visits.
  • If successful, such protocols could speed up recovery and reduce the risk of life-threatening complications for patients who are healing at home.
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Remdesivir became the first standard coronavirus drug following a study that showed the medicine can speed up recovery time. The drug isn’t a magical cure, however, and it won’t reduce the number of deaths. More research is required to see whether remdesivir can be paired up with other drugs to further improve the healing process and potentially reduce complications. The drug isn’t widely available though, and it will only be used in hospitals on some patients.

The race to find other treatments for COVID-19 is still on, and researchers aren’t only looking at vaccines. A team at Stanford has an idea that might prevent severe coronavirus cases, and that’s to start treating the disease with a specific drug as soon as the infection is confirmed.

The researchers want to use interferon injections in patients immediately after they are diagnosed to see if the drug can speed up the recovery process and reduce complications that could lead to death. To get there, researchers will trial a drug called peginterferon lambda-1a (Lambda), MercuryNews reports.

Doctors are looking to recruit 120 patients who have been diagnosed COVID-19-positive and start treatment within three days from that diagnosis. The study will include patients who are treated at home, not patients who are already admitted to hospitals. The volunteers will be split into two cohorts, one receiving the Lambda treatment and the other receiving a placebo. The patients will be given thermometers and pulse oximeters, and they will be seen nine times by doctors involved in the research.

Lambda is an interferon drug made by Eiger Pharmaceuticals that works in the lung epithelial cells, which are cells of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Some of these cells are attacked by the novel coronavirus and Lambda can boost the antiviral response. Dr. Upinder Singh, professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and principal investigator, said this type of interferon is well-tolerated by the human body compared to other versions that may be more harmful.

“If I were sick, this drug would be my first choice,” Steve Kirsch told MercuryNews. “Like a house on fire, the earlier you call, the less damage there is, and the faster the repairs.” The Silicon Valley entrepreneur started the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund two weeks ago, donating $1 million for research into drugs that could be given early to COVID-19 patients. The fund is seeking more donors and it’ll fund the new Stanford research as well as three other potential drugs that could be used early in COVID-19 therapies.

“For patients, this is a paradigm shift,” Singh said. “At first, we said, ‘We don’t have tests, stay home!’ Now we’re saying ‘Get tested, but we can’t do anything. In this new third stage, there are opportunities. We want to know early if you have COVID — because there’s something we can try.”

A completed clinical trial from Hong Kong showed the potential benefits of a different interferon version when coupled with two antivirals, including a combo given previously to HIV patients. That study showed that this triple-drug therapy can reduce recovery time down to a week for mild and moderate patients who get the combo soon after being admitted to the hospital.

If you want to take part in the new Stanford clinical trial, you can register for it at this link.

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.