Finally, it looks like the world might be on the verge of obtaining a therapeutic drug that's actually effective at helping patients infected with COVID. But you probably won't hear anything about this latest breakthrough from the American media, which covered the race for a vaccine with breathless enthusiasm.
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some 93% of 90 seriously ill coronavirus patients treated in several Greek hospitals with a new drug developed by a team at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center were discharged in five days or fewer during the Phase II trial of the new therapeutic.
The Phase II trial confirmed the results of Phase I, which was conducted in Israel last winter. That trial found that 29 out of 30 patients in moderate to serious condition recover within days, while no cases of serious side effects have yet been detected.
"The main goal of this study was to verify that the drug is safe," Prof. Nadir Arber said. "To this day we have not registered any significant side effect in any patient from both groups."
The trial was conducted in Athens because Israel didn't have enough sick patients. The principal investigator was identified as Greece's coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Sotiris Tsiodras.
Arber and his team developed the drug around amolecule that the professor has been studying for 25 years called CD24, which is naturally present in the body.
"It is important to remember that 19 out of 20 COVID-19 patients do not need any therapy," Arber said. “After a window of five to 12 days, some 5% of the patients start to deteriorate."
By now, even lay people may understand that the reason COVID patients deteriorate is due to a natural bodily reaction to something called the cytokine storm. The cytokine storm occurs because the body's immune system goes ballistic. In many cases, the reaction actually contributes to the death or serious illness of the patient. The new therapeutic works by suppressing this reaction using the CD24 protein.
"This is precision medicine," he said. "We are very happy that we have found a tool to tackle the physiology of the disease."
"Steroids for example shut down the entire immune system," he further explained. "We are balancing the part responsible for the cytokine storms using the endogenous mechanism of the body, meaning tools offered by the body itself."
The scientists are preparing to begin the Phase 3 trial, which they hope to complete by the end of the year. That probably couldn't happen quickly enough, since the world is already waking up to the fact that the vaccines originally marketed as more than 90% effective are actually helping the virus to mutate into more virulent strains.