Researchers discovered that a common anti-inflammatory drug could lower the number of patients on ventilators from COVID-19, increasing the likelihood of survival by more than 50%.
Anti-allergy medicine dupilumab (Dupixent; Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc) could improve survival for patients with moderate to severe COVID-19, according to UVA Health experts in a prepared statement.1
The results of a trial investigating dupilumab showed that approximately 90% of patients who were given dupilumab survived at 60 days and had a reduced need for intensive care, explained study author Jennifer Sasson, MD, University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, and International Health, in a press release.1
“Our clinical trial suggests that treatment with the anti-allergy medicine dupilumab may decrease deaths due to COVID-19. UVA is the first to test this novel and promising approach to COVID-19 treatment, which also proved safe in this small study—as we had expected, as dupilumab has proven safe and effective as an allergy medicine,” Sasson said in the press release.1
Sasson and team wanted to know if dupilumab could improve immune response to COVID-19, following a discovery that dupilumab blocks the inflammatory-driver interleukin-13 (IL-13). Among COVID-19 patients, those with more IL-13 in their blood have been shown to have a greater risk of needing to be placed on a ventilator.1
During the trial, Sasson and the research team evaluated 40 patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms in a double-blind clinical trial, giving patients either dupilumab or a placebo.1 After 4 weeks, adverse events or ventilator-free survival were no different in the experimental or control group. After 60 days, 2 patients died in the dupilumab group compared to 5 from the placebo group.1 However, among those patients not in ICU at the beginning of the trial, only 50% of those taking dupilumab went to the ICU compared to patients receiving the placebo.1
IL-13, a genetic marker that can increase humoral immunity, promote inflammatory immune response, and can be associated with lung damage, has been found to negatively determine the outcome of patient wellbeing. Specifically, in a study assessing the probable association between IL-13, IL-13RA1, and IL-13RA2 genes polymorphism and pulmonary tuberculosis, IL-13 was shown to increase the susceptibility of contracting variants of tuberculosis and was associated with renal cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and bladder cancer.2
“A large multi-institution study to validate these preliminary results is being designed,” Sasson said in the press release. “If successful, this multi-site trial will open a new window to treatment of COVID-19 and potentially other viral pneumonias.”1
In 2017, the FDA approved dupilumab to treat moderate to severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. It is currently used to treat asthma and chronic sinus inflammation as well.
“[The researchers] are indebted to the patients at UVA who consented to participate in this study, without even knowing if they would receive the medicine or placebo, as they are the ones who have advanced our understanding of the pandemic,”Sasson said in the press release.1
1. Eczema treatment cuts risk of death from COVID-19, study suggests. EurekAlert! August 16, 2022. Accessed on August 18, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/961964
2. HM, Li, Q, Huang, HF Pan et al. Investigation on Probable Association Between IL-13, IL-13RA1, and IL-13RA2 Genes Polymorphism and Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Dove Press. July 30, 2022; 4527-4536. doi.org/10.2147/JIR.S374714.