Hepatitis drug eyed as possible coronavirus treatment for mild cases, Stanford researchers say


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A clinical trial underway at Stanford Medicine is testing whether a drug called interferon-lambda can treat mild coronavirus cases and reduce virus transmission.

A release from organization explains interferon-lambda is a manufactured form of a naturally occurring protein that has been administered to thousands of hepatitis patients in previous clinical trials.

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The scientists enlisted individuals who were recently diagnosed with the virus to see whether the drug can play a role in keeping patients out of the hospital. Researchers were also interested if the drug hinders viral shedding which could reduce transmission to others.

Receptors for interferon-lambda are said to be limited to the lining of the lungs, intestine, and liver which are some of the main organs under attack from coronavirus.

Investigators recruited 120 participants who were recently diagnosed with mild cases of COVID-19 at Stanford Health Care and local hospitals, ERs, clinics and drive-thru testing sites, according to the statement.

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The school said participants would be randomly divided into two groups, receiving single injections of either the drug or a placebo. Participants would then be monitored for 28 days for symptoms, disease severity, rates of hospitalization and duration, and quantity of viral shedding.

The study’s principal investigator, Stanford University’s Dr. Prasanna Jagannathan, noted an “excellent” safety profile on the drug. Jagannathan is an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the medical school and co-leads the study with Dr. Upinder Singh, professor of infectious diseases, microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.

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“Even though these individuals may not need hospitalization, infection with COVID-19 results in respiratory symptoms and lost productivity,” Singh said, according to the release. “Plus – and this is important – patients with mild disease contribute to community disease transmission. Limiting viral shedding from this group would reduce transmission to family members and others, which is crucial to controlling epidemic disease spread.”

The release also says results in lab settings and animal studies show the drug may help in controlling respiratory illnesses caused by influenza and SARS.

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