Tag: covid treatment

Heparin’s Beneficial Impact on COVID Outcomes

Source: Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have now shown that the anticoagulant heparin not only has a beneficial effect on survival of COVID patients, but also influences the duration of active infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The results were published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

COVID is now known to be a multifaceted infectious disease, which affects several functional systems in the human body following infection with the pathogen SARS-CoV-2. One of these functional systems is blood clotting. COVID patients are at greater risk of thromboses and embolisms, such as strokes, pulmonary or myocardial infarctions, and even deep vein thromboses. The use of drugs that inhibit blood clotting has been part of the treatment guidelines for COVID since July 2020. “These complications during hospitalisation have a direct impact on the well-being of patients and increased the risk of dying from COVID,” said first author David Pereyra from MedUni Vienna’s Department of General Surgery. The underlying coagulopathy is still not fully understood.

“The coagulopathy observed in COVID patients is novel and differs in many respects from previously known coagulation problems,” said senior author Alice Assinger, group leader at the Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research at the Medical University of Vienna. “COVID-associated coagulopathy displays characteristics that, although partially comparable with other coagulation diseases, cannot be fully explained by them.” Alice Assinger’s group therefore started to look for an explanation for this sub-condition of COVID in the spring of 2020, in an early phase of the pandemic.

In a multi-centre analysis of COVID patients, the group saw that COVID-associated coagulopathy occurs almost exclusively in patients requiring intensive care or in patients who die as a result of COVID. While anticoagulant drugs improve the survival of COVID patients, they show no effect on immunological processes related to blood coagulation (immunothrombosis).

However, an analysis of the results showed that the length of active SARS-CoV-2 infection is shortened in patients treated with low-molecular-weight heparin, the most commonly used anticoagulant. “In patients who receive this drug, infection time is an average of four days shorter than in patients who are not treated with low-molecular-weight heparin. We were surprised to see that low-molecular-weight heparin may have a direct effect on coronavirus and its infectivity,” said David Pereyra. Experimental data show that heparin can inhibit the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to bind to cells, thereby preventing them from being infected.

These observations were made in the context of a close collaboration between the three hospitals involved – the Favoriten Hospital in Vienna, the Innsbruck Regional Hospital Innsbruck and the Johannes Kepler University Hospital in Linz – as well as through the active exchange between basic researchers and clinicians,” says Alice Assinger, underscoring the relevance of good cooperation during the COVID pandemic for a better understanding of the disease and its treatment.

Source: Medical University of Vienna

Pfizer’s Paxlovid Could Deliver Knockout Blow to COVID

Source: Pixabay CC0

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced today that Paxlovid, its investigational novel COVID oral antiviral candidate, significantly reduced hospitalisation and death, based on an interim analysis of its phase II/III clinical trials showing an 89% reduction of risk of hospitalisation or death due to COVID. 

The phase II/III EPIC-HR (Evaluation of Protease Inhibition for COVID-19 in High-Risk Patients) randomised, double-blind study of non-hospitalised adult patients with COVID, who are at high risk of progressing to severe illness. The scheduled interim analysis showed an 89% reduction in risk of COVID-related hospitalisation or all-cause mortality compared to placebo in patients treated within three days of symptom onset (primary endpoint). Only 0.8% of patients who received Paxlovid were hospitalised through Day 28 with zero deaths, compared to 7.0% of patients who received placebo and were hospitalised or died. Similar reductions in COVID-related hospitalisation or mortality were seen in patients treated within five days of symptom onset; 1.0% of patients in the intervention arm were hospitalised through Day 28 with zero deaths, compared to 6.7% of placebo arm patients. In the overall study population through Day 28, no deaths were reported in intervention arm patients as compared to 10 (1.6%) deaths in placebo arm patients.

The results show such an overwhelming effectiveness that Pfizer, in consultation with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will cease further enrollment into the study and will apply for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) as soon as possible.

If it gets the green light, Pfizer’s Paxlovid, would be the first oral antiviral of its kind, a specifically designed SARS-CoV-2-3CL protease inhibitor. PF-07321332 inhibits viral replication at the proteolysis stage, before viral RNA replication. Co-administration with a low dose of ritonavir helps slow the metabolism of PF-07321332 in order for it to remain active in the body for longer at higher concentrations. It has shown effectiveness against multiple variants, and could have broad general effectiveness against coronaviruses.

“All of us at Pfizer are incredibly proud of our scientists, who designed and developed this molecule, working with the utmost urgency to help lessen the impact of this devastating disease on patients and their communities,” said Mikael Dolsten, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer and President, Worldwide Research, Development and Medical of Pfizer. “We’re thankful to all of the patients, investigators, and sites around the world who participated in this clinical trial, all with the common goal of bringing forth a breakthrough oral therapy to help combat COVID.”

The review of safety data included a larger cohort of 1881 patients in EPIC-HR, whose data were available at the time of the analysis. Adverse events were comparable between paxlovid (19%) and placebo (21%), which were mostly mild.

Pfizer kicked off the EPIC-HR study in July 2021 after positive results from Phase I clinical trials, followed in August by the Phase II/III EPIC-SR (Evaluation of Protease Inhibition for COVID-19 in Standard-Risk Patients), to evaluate efficacy and safety in patients with a confirmed diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection who are at standard (low) risk. This trial includes a cohort of vaccinated at-risk patients who have an acute breakthrough COVID infection. A further trial is investigating prophylaxis among household members of patients with a COVID infection. 

Source: Pfizer

Enzymes Speed up Production of Molnupiravir for COVID

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Molnupiravir is being developed for the treatment of COVID, which has been submitted for review by the US Food and Drug Administration, but large-scale production to treat COVID is still a challenge. Now, researchers have engineered enzymes to help manufacture the pill, resulting in a much shorter synthesis with a higher yield than current methods. The details of their work are reported in ACS Central Science.

The oral antiviral molnupiravir was originally developed to treat influenza, and works by causing viruses to make errors when copying their own RNA, introducing mutations that inhibit replication. Recently, interim phase 3 clinical trial findings indicated that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death from COVID for newly diagnosed, at-risk patients, and that it had equal effectiveness against different SARS-CoV-2 variants. Researchers set out to develop a shorter, higher-yielding and sustainable way to synthesise the molecule.

The team came up with a three-step synthesis of molnupiravir from ribose, a sugar molecule. They identified enzymes or chemical treatments to sequentially add the appropriate chemical groups to ribose to generate the molecule. For the second step of the synthesis, the team identified bacterial enzymes that weakly catalysed the desired reactions. Using in vitro evolution, they greatly enhanced these enzymes’ activities. The new synthetic route, which also included a phosphate recycling strategy, was 70% shorter and had a seven-fold higher overall yield than the original route.

Source: American Chemical Society

Hopes Dashed for Ciclesonide as COVID Treatment

Source: PIxabay/CC0

Despite high hopes, the first placebo controlled trial of inhaled steroids for COVID suggests that ciclesonide, an inhaled and nasal steroid drug commonly used for asthma and rhinitis, does not help young healthy people with COVID and respiratory symptoms improve earlier.

The study, published in the BMJ, was motivated by research showing that ciclesonide, which is safe, inexpensive and widely available, could decrease viral replication of SARS-Cov2 in mouse models of COVID. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of inhaled ciclesonide was designed to evaluate the resolution of symptoms in adults with COVID presenting with respiratory symptoms.

“Based on my experience treating asthma, I thought it made sense to see if it would decrease the lung inflammation in patients with COVID early in the disease, as lung disease has an important impact for patients and is a major effect of the virus,” explained Dr Nicole Ezer, the first and lead author of the study, who is a lung specialist and a researcher in the Translational Research in Respiratory Diseases Program at the RI-MUHC. “In addition, we felt it was important to study a drug for COVID that has a very good safety profile and could be used in high, middle and low-income countries safely to reduce respiratory symptoms. Access to affordable medications is very important to decrease disparities in health outcomes across the world.”

The importance of placebo control
From Sept. 15, 2020 to June 8, 2021, the study recruited 215 symptomatic adults and randomly assigned them to either inhaled and intranasal ciclesonide or inhaled and intranasal placebo for 14 days. Participants were asked to complete a survey online on the day of enrollment and on six other occasions until day 14, with a follow-up survey at day 29.

Based on the assumption that treatment would be most effective if given early in the disease process, participants were recruited within five days of a positive PCR test result for SARS-CoV-2 and symptom onset and received the treatment at home by commercial courier. No vaccinated participants were included in the trial.

No significant difference was seen between the intervention and control group. After seven days of treatment, 40% taking ciclesonide had no more fever and respiratory symptoms, vs 35% taking placebo. At day 14, these figures amounted to 66% in the ciclesonide group compared with 58% in the placebo group.

Those results are disappointing, especially since two recent open label studies had raised hopes in the scientific community that inhaled steroids could alleviate respiratory symptoms associated with COVID, and one study demonstrated efficacy of dexamethasone in admitted patients with COVID.

“The previously published studies had a major limitation: they were open label with no placebo. Other studies have shown that inhalers have a strong placebo effect,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr Emily McDonald, associate professor of medicine at McGill University. “Here’s a strong reminder that any study of a medication, in particular of inhalers, needs to be controlled with a placebo before we rush to recommend them.”

In spite of the study’s outcome, researchers still believe there is potential for the treatment of COVID with inhaled steroids.

“It’s still possible that inhaled steroids might be beneficial for older at-risk populations,” said Dr Ezer, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University. “We need more research focused on older adults and people who are high-risk, but those studies must have a placebo arm to make sure they aren’t coming to a false conclusion of benefit.”

Source: McGill University

Large Study Finds Statins Ineffective, Possibly Worsen COVID

Source: Unsplash

Though small studies have suggested that statins, which lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), may also reduce COVID severity or mortality, findings from a large study suggest that it has no effect and may even worsen the disease.

In the effort to fight COVID, researchers have attempted to find existing medications that might have an effect on the outcome of the disease, and statins were one readily available candidate that appeared to have some effect. However, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests they may not be suitable.

“Despite the apparent beneficial effect of statins on the outcomes of various infectious diseases, our study revealed that their specific use to treat COVID is probably not merited,” said senior study author Petros Karakousis, MD, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Compared with earlier research, we looked at a larger and more widely varied inpatient population, and had better criteria for defining disease severity, thereby enabling our results to be more relevant for predicting the impact of statins on COVID outcomes in hospitalised patients.”

In the study, researchers reviewed the records of 4447 hospitalised patients, ages 18 years or older, who had been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection between March 1 and June 30, 2020. Of these, 594 (13%) were receiving statins at admission, with most statin users being men (57%) and older (ages 52–78 compared with ages 29–62) than the non-statin users. The highest percentage of statin users were black (47%), had hypertension (74%) or diabetes (53%), and were more likely to take medications for lowering blood pressure – along with statins to reduce their LDL cholesterol.

After accounting for confounding factors, statin use was found to have no significant effect on COVID mortality. However, they did find that patients hospitalised with COVID and taking statins had an 18% increased risk for having a more severe form of the disease.

“One plausible explanation for this finding is that statins increase cellular production of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 [ACE2], the receptor on a cell’s surface through which SARS-CoV-2 gains entry,” said Prof Karakousis. “Therefore, statins may lower a cell’s resistance to infection and in turn, increase the odds that the patient will have a more severe case of COVID.”

Prof Karakousis said future studies should attempt to better define the relationship between statin use and COVID, noting that all previous ones were retrospective and had factors that could not be eliminated, such as many statin users being overweight.

The only way to definitively determine if statins have any benefit for patients with COVID is to conduct a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

High-dose Heparin Reduces Mortality in Moderately-ill COVID Patients

SARS-CoV-2 viruses (yellow) infecting a human cell. Credit: NIH

A high dose of heparin, an inexpensive and globally available medication, reduces mortality risk in hospitalised, moderately-ill COVID patients, suggests a new study led by St. Michael’s Hospital.

Appearing in the BMJ, the RAPID Trial compared a high, therapeutic dose of heparin to a prophylactic low dose for patients with moderate COVID and elevated d-dimer levels admitted to hospitals. D-dimers are protein fragments produced when a blood clot gets dissolved; higher levels indicate increased clotting risks.

The researchers studied 465 patients in hospitals around the world and found that while the therapeutic dose of heparin was not associated with a significant reduction in the study’s primary outcome, a composite of death, the need for mechanical ventilation or admission to intensive care, the dosing of heparin did reduce all-cause death in moderately-ill COVID patients admitted to hospital by 78%.

“Our study confirms therapeutic heparin is beneficial in patients who are on the ward with COVID, but other studies suggest it could be harmful for patients who are in critical care,” said Dr. Peter Jüni, Director of the Applied Health Research Centre at St. Michael’s and co-lead of the study.

Therapeutic doses of heparin are used for deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary emboli, whereas prophylactic, or lower, doses are used for patients admitted to Internal Medicine wards to prevent blood clotting while they are in hospital.

Several trials have investigated using blood thinners in COVID patients due to heightened inflammation and clotting in blood vessels caused by the virus. Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, Head of the Division of Hematology-Oncology and Director of the Coagulation Lab at St. Michael’s, and co-lead on the study, hopes this research contributes to a change in treatment guidelines for COVID patients.

“This is a once-in-a-million opportunity – heparin is inexpensive, globally available, and exists in every single hospital pharmacy cabinet right now,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to rapidly repurpose a drug available around the world.”

In particular, she said, the treatment could make a difference in areas where vaccine availability or coverage continues to be limited. Heparin is included in the WHO’s list of essential medicines.

The researchers hope to learn more from the data collected by analysing it further to address new questions, and are also considering revisiting patient outcomes to understand whether these therapies reduce the odds of long COVID.

Source: Unity Health

The Rise of Phony Stem Cell COVID Treatments

SARS-CoV-2 virus. Source: Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

The global race to develop new stem cell-based COVID treatments during the pandemic was filled with violations of government regulations, inflated medical claims and distorted public communication, according to an article appearing in Stem Cell Reports.

While stem cell therapy has treatment applications for a limited range of diseases and conditions, at present no clinically tested or government-approved cell therapies are available for the treatment or prevention of COVID or long COVID.

Despite this, some clinics have started offering unproven and unsafe “stem cell” therapies that promise to prevent COVID by strengthening the immune system or improving overall health, according to lead author Laertis Ikonomou, PhD, associate professor of oral biology in the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine.

The article explores the negative effects that misinformation about cell therapies has on public health, as well as the roles that researchers, science communicators and regulatory agencies should play in curbing the spread of inaccurate information and in promoting responsible, accurate communication of research findings.

“Efforts to rapidly develop therapeutic interventions should never occur at the expense of the ethical and scientific standards that are at the heart of responsible clinical research and innovation,” said Prof Ikonomou.

Other investigators include Megan Munsie, PhD, professor of ethics, education and policy in stem cell science at the University of Melbourne; and 

Many of the studies on possible stem cell-based COVID treatments are at an early stage of investigation and further evaluation on larger sample sizes is required, says Munsie. However, the findings from preliminary studies are frequently exaggerated through press releases, social media and uncritical news media reports.

“Given the urgency of the ongoing pandemic, even the smallest morsel of COVID science is often deemed newsworthy and rapidly enters a social media landscape where—regardless of its accuracy – it can be widely shared with a global audience,” said Aaron Levine, PhD, associate professor of public policy at Georgia Institute of Technology..

Clinics selling such treatments sometimes use these findings and news reports to exploit the fears of vulnerable patients by unethically advertising unproven stem cell treatments benefits of boosting the immune system, regenerating lung tissue and preventing transmission of COVID, said co-author Leigh Turner, PhD, professor of health, society and behaviour at the University of California, Irvine.

Reportedly some harm to patients resulted from unproven stem cell therapies, including blindness and death. Patients suffer financially as well, said Prof Ikonomou, as the products range in price from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, and people are often encouraged to receive the expensive treatments every few months.

Patients who COVID may decline vaccines, stop wearing masks and stop other COVID safety measures, Prof Turner warned. They may also be less likely to participate in ethically conducted clinical trials.

“The premature commercialisation of cell-based therapeutics will inevitably harm the field of regenerative medicine, increase risks to patients and erode the public’s trust,” said Prof Ikonomou.

Despite warnings, many offending companies continue to make false claims. The authors recommend that regulatory agencies consider implementing stronger measures.

They also suggest that scientific and professional societies lobby regulatory agencies to increase enforcement of laws and regulations. The authors recommended that science communicators and journalists can combat misinformation by not engaging in hyperbolic coverage of research results and conveying study limitations.

Source: University at Buffalo

Anti-Spike Antibodies Key for Surviving Severe COVID

SARS-CoV-2 viruses (yellow) infecting a human cell. Credit: NIH

In a study of patients with COVID being treated in intensive care units, people mounting only a low antibody response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus had a greater risk of dying. 

Previous studies by the researchers had indicated that levels of SARS-CoV2 viral RNA and antigens in the blood was related to COVID severity.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, recruited 92 patients severely ill with COVID who were admitted to the ICU. The researchers found that patients with strong antibody responses against the virus had low levels of viral RNA in their blood, especially anti-S (Spike protein) antibodies. Those with poor antibody responses had high viral RNA levels and disseminated viral proteins in the blood, 2.5 times higher than those with strong antibody responses. 

Previous studies have shown that critical COVID patients develop higher titers of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies than those with milder disease, suggesting that antibody response alone is insufficient to avoid severe disease. The findings nonetheless support that critical COVID patients would need to mount a robust anti-S antibody response to survive.

The results could help establish the optimal antibody levels needed for an individual to overcome COVID when critically ill. The study also provided evidence of the importance of antibodies against the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 to block the virus’ replication, which are the antibodies induced by vaccination.  

“Our findings support that treatment with exogenous antibodies in COVID should be personalised, reserving this therapy for those patients with absent or low endogenous antibodies levels,” said co–senior author Jesús F. Bermejo-Martin, MD, PhD, of the Instituto de Investigación Biomédica de Salamanca (IBSAL) & CIBERES, in Spain.

Source: Wiley

New Drug Molnupiravir Halves COVID Hospitalisation Risk

Source: Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Merck today announced that their investigational oral antiviral drug molnupiravir significantly reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death in a Phase III trial in at risk patients with mild-to-moderate COVID. 

Interim analysis showed that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by approximately 50%; 7.3% of patients randomised to receive molnupiravir were either hospitalised or died through Day 29 following randomisation, compared with 14.1% of placebo-treated patients. Through Day 29, no deaths were reported in patients who received molnupiravir, as compared to 8 deaths in patients who received placebo. Study recruitment is being stopped early due to these positive results, and the company plans to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) to the U.S. FDA as soon as possible.

Molnupiravir is an oral form of a potent ribonucleoside analog that inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2. Molnupiravir has been shown to be active in several preclinical models of SARS-CoV-2, including for prophylaxis, treatment, and prevention of transmission. 

All 775 patients had laboratory-confirmed mild-to-moderate COVID, with symptom onset within 5 days of study randomization and were required to have at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcome at study entry. Across all key subgroups, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalisation and/or death; efficacy was unaffected by timing of symptom onset or underlying risk factor. Additionally, based on the participants with available viral sequencing data (approximately 40% of participants), molnupiravir demonstrated consistent efficacy across viral variants Gamma, Delta, and Mu.

The incidence of any adverse event was comparable in the molnupiravir and placebo groups, as was incidence of drug-related adverse events, and the drug was well tolerated.

In addition, molnupiravir is being evaluated for post-exposure prophylaxis in MOVe-AHEAD, a global, multicenter, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III study, which is evaluating the efficacy and safety of molnupiravir in preventing the spread of COVID within households. 

Source: Merck

ECG Readings Can Predict Worsening and Mortality in COVID and Influenza

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya from Pexels

Specific and dynamic changes on electrocardiograms (ECGs) of hospitalised COVID patients with COVID or influenza can help predict a timeframe for worsening health and death, according to a new Mount Sinai study.

Published in the American Journal of Cardiology, the study shows that shrinking waveforms on these tests can be used to help better identify high-risk patients and provide them more aggressive monitoring and treatment.  

“Our study shows diminished waveforms on ECGs over the course of COVID illness can be an important tool for health care workers caring for these patients, allowing them to catch rapid clinical changes over their hospital stay and intervene more quickly. […] ECGs may be helpful for hospitals to use when caring for these patients before their condition gets dramatically worse,” said senior author Joshua Lampert, MD, Cardiac Electrophysiology fellow at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “This is particularly useful in overwhelmed systems, as there is no wait for blood work to return and this test can be performed by the majority of health care personnel. Additionally, the ECG can be done at the time of other bedside patient care, eliminating the potential exposure of another health care worker to COVID.”

Researchers did a retrospective analysis of ECGs on 140 hospitalised COVID patients across the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, and compared them with 281 ECGs from patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza A or B admitted to The Mount Sinai Hospital.  
For each patient, the researchers compared three ECG time points: a baseline scan done within a year prior to COVID or influenza hospitalisation, a scan taken at hospital admission, and follow-up ECGs performed during hospitalisation.

They manually measured QRS waveform height on all electrocardiograms – changes in this electrical activity can indicate failing ventricles. The researchers analysed follow-up ECGs after hospital admission and analysed changes in the waveforms according to a set of criteria they designed  called LoQRS amplitude (LoQRS) to identify a reduced signal. LoQRS was defined by QRS amplitude of less than 5mm measured from the arms and legs or less than 10mm when measured on the chest wall as well as a relative reduction in waveform height in either location by at least 50%.

Fifty-two COVID patients in the study did not survive, and 74% of those had LoQRS. Their ECG QRS waveforms reduced approximately 5.3 days into their hospital admission and they died approximately two days after the first abnormal ECG was observed.

Out of the 281 influenza patients studied, LoQRS was identified in 11 percent of them. Seventeen influenza patients died, and 39% had LoQRS present. Influenza patients met LoQRS criteria a median of 55 days into their hospital admission, and the median time to death was six days from when LoQRS was identified. Overall, these results show influenza patients followed a less virulent course of illness when compared to COVID patients.

“When it comes to caring for COVID patients, our findings suggest it may be beneficial not only for health care providers to check an EKG when the patient first arrives at the hospital, but also follow-up ECGs during their hospital stay to assess for LoQRS, particularly if the patient has not made profound clinical progress. If LoQRS is present, the team may want to consider escalating medical therapy or transferring the patient to a highly monitored setting such as an intensive care unit (ICU) in anticipation of declining health,” added Dr Lampert.

Source: The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine