Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is one of the first sites to begin testing the safety and efficacy of the drug canakinumab for use as a COVID-19 treatment.
The drug, which is approved to treat a type of juvenile arthritis, will be tested for the treatment of a severe immune overreaction called cytokine release syndrome, which has been occurring in some patients with COVID-19 pneumonia.
Canakinumab works by neutralizing a protein called Interleukin-1β, a key component of the body's natural inflammatory response. Neutralizing this protein may help suppress the uncontrolled, deregulated inflammation seen in COVID-19.
"It can kind of snowball on itself," says Benjamin Van Tassel, Pharm.D., a professor at VCU's School of Pharmacy and a co-investigator on the study, speaking about inflammation seen in COVID-19 in a press release. "A little bit of inflammation can trigger more inflammation, which triggers more and more. And that seems to be the most dangerous part of a COVID-19 infection: when you enter into this hyper-inflammatory state."
The phase 3 clinical trial will enroll volunteer COVID-19 patients who are experiencing cytokine release syndrome and who require oxygen but do not require a ventilator.
In addition to studying canakinumab, VCU researchers are in the process of studying antiviral drug remdesivir and a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis called sarilumab as possible COVID-19 treatments as well. Continued research is required to determine the safest and most effective treatment for COVID-19 and its associated symptoms.