uva health antibody used to treat asthma eczema reduces risk of death from covid 19
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UVA Health: Antibody used to treat asthma, eczema reduces risk of death from COVID-19

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A clinical trial conducted by UVA Health suggests that a monoclonal antibody used to treat asthma and eczema may reduce the risk of death for patients with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.

The trial, designed and led by Jennifer Sasson, MD, found that dupilumab improved patient survival at 60 days and reduced the number of patients who needed intensive care.

Almost 90 percent of patients who received dupilumab in the randomized trial were alive at 60 days, compared with 76.2 percent of patients who received a placebo.

“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,” said Sasson, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s division of infectious diseases and international health. “A large multi-institution study to validate these preliminary results is being designed. If successful, this multi-site trial will open a new window to treatment of COVID-19 and potentially other viral pneumonias.”

Sasson and her collaborators were inspired to launch the trial after discovering that patients with COVID-19 were at significantly greater risk of needing a ventilator if their blood contained high levels of interleukin-13, a driver of inflammation in the body.

Dupilumab, sold under the brand name Dupixent, works by blocking the effects of IL-13.

The federal Food and Drug Administration approved dupilumab in 2017 for the treatment of moderate to severe eczema (an itchy skin condition also known as atopic dermatitis). Dupilumab is now also used to treat patients with asthma and chronic sinus inflammation.

To see if dupilumab could improve the body’s immune response to COVID-19, Sasson and her collaborators enrolled 40 patients with moderate to severe cases in a clinical trial. The trial was double-blinded, meaning neither the patients nor the doctors knew whether the patient was receiving the antibody or a placebo. Both groups of trial participants otherwise received standard care.

After 28 days, the two groups saw no difference in ventilator-free survival or in adverse events. But by 60 days, there were only two deaths among the patients receiving dupilumab and five deaths among those receiving placebo.

Among the patients who were not already in the intensive care unit when they joined the trial, three receiving dupilumab were ultimately admitted to the ICU. That’s compared with six of those receiving placebo.

The UVA researchers think dupilumab may be a useful treatment for appropriate patients, especially considering the limited effectiveness of existing treatments.

“We 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.

The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Open Forum of Infectious Diseases. The research team consisted of Sasson, Alexandra N. Donlan, Jennie Z. Ma, Heather M. Haughey, Rachael Coleman, Uma Nayak, Amy J. Mathers, Sylvain Laverdure, Robin Dewar, Patrick Jackson, Scott K. Heysell, Jeffrey M. Sturek and William A. Petri Jr.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.