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Stanford Researchers Investigate New Drug that Can Treat Mild COVID-19 Cases and Stem Viral Shedding

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 19 May 2020
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Image: A scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of NIAID-RML)
Image: A scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of NIAID-RML)
Scientists at Stanford Medicine (Stanford, CA, USA) are investigating whether a molecule called interferon-lambda can help people with mild cases of COVID-19 feel better and reduce their transmission of the disease-causing virus.

The drug, interferon-lambda, is a manufactured form of a naturally occurring protein that has been given in previous clinical trials to more than 3,000 people infected with hepatitis viruses. Results in laboratory settings and in animals also suggest that lambda-interferon may be helpful in controlling viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as influenza and SARS, an often fatal disease, as well as help snuff out other common viral infections. Interferon-lambda orchestrates the body’s natural defenses against infection by issuing a “call in the troops” order to constituent cells of the immune system. Receptors for interferon-lambda are restricted to the linings of the lungs, intestine and liver, thus producing fewer side effects.

The clinical trial is underway at Stanford Medicine will determine whether the drug can keep people who have just tested positive for the coronavirus out of the hospital, help them recover faster and make them safer to be around in the meantime. The researchers will also investigate whether the drug stems viral shedding, which would reduce transmission to family members and the community. The investigators are recruiting 120 participants who have just been diagnosed with cases of mild COVID-19 at Stanford Health Care and other local hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics and drive-through testing sites. Trial participants, randomly sorted into two groups, will be given single injections under the skin of either a placebo or interferon-lambda. Then they will be monitored for 28 days for symptoms, disease severity, rates of hospitalization, and duration and quantity of viral shedding.

“Even though these individuals may not need hospitalization, infection with COVID-19 results in respiratory symptoms and lost productivity,” said Upinder Singh, MD, professor of infectious diseases and of microbiology and immunology at the school, who is co-leading the study. “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.”

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