Two New Trials of Coronavirus Treatment

Drugs used for treating arthritis are being tested as treatments for COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, as researchers rush to find ways of helping patients and slowing the number of infectionsSanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said on Monday they began a clinical trial of their rheumatoid arthritis drug Kevzara as a coronavirus treatment, while in Spain a separate trial is studying if a combination of two drugs can slow down the spread of coronavirus among people. Enrolments for the mid-to-late stage trial of Kevzara, an immune-system modifying drug known as a monoclonal antibody, will begin immediately and test up to 400 patients, Sanofi and Regeneron said in a joint statement. Regeneron in February announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a treatment for the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV2, and said it would focus on monoclonal antibodies.

The virus that emerged in central China in December has now infected more than 179,000 people worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking these figures. Doctors have seen that many of those who become critically ill from SARS-CoV2 are experiencing a so-called cytokine storm, which happens when the immune system overreacts and attacks the body’s organs. Some researchers think drugs that can suppress the immune system, including monoclonal antibodies, might be useful for limiting this autoimmune response.

Meanwhile, Barcelona-based researchers said on Monday they would administer a drug used to treat HIV – containing darunavir and cobicistat – to a coronavirusinfected person. The patient’s close contacts would be administered hydroxychloroquine, a drug for malaria and rheumatoid conditions because laboratory experiments suggest it prevents this strain of coronavirus from reproducing. “The goal of our study is to separate the transmission chains,” Oriol Mitja, researcher at Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute, told a news briefing. Patients with coronavirus can infect between 5% and 15% of the people they come into contact with during the 14 days after starting to show symptoms, he said. The trial’s goal is to reduce that number below 14 days and also to reduce the percentage of contacts infected and researchers plan to analyze the results in 21 days. Around 200 patients with coronavirus and 3,000 of their close contacts will take part in the trial, which has private and public funding.


A Promising Antiviral Is Being Tested for the Coronavirus

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread worldwide and more people become critically ill, scientists are racing to find a treatment that will help turn the tide. Dozens of medicines are in clinical trials in China—and now in the U.S.—to treat the disease, officially named COVID-19. Some are antiviral drugs that are already used to narrowly target other viruses. Experts say these medications are unlikely to do much against the novel coronavirus. Other drugs being tested—such as the broad-spectrum antiviral remdesivir, developed by Gilead Sciences—could prove quite effective, some evidence suggests. But only the rigorous, controlled clinical studies now underway will be able to confirm this possibility.

At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 outbreak has sickened more than 82,000 people globally and killed more than 2,800 of them. No vaccine or direct treatment currently exists. The more than 80 clinical trials being conducted in China involve drugs that were developed to treat illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and Ebola. These candidates include HIV antivirals called protease inhibitors, which work by blocking enzymes the virus needs to replicate, and a malaria drug called chloroquine, which is not an antiviral but has shown some efficacy against COVID-19 in a lab dish. Yet experts say drugs that specifically target other pathogens are unlikely to work well enough.

The mistake generally made these days is to think that [just] any antiviral would be effective against [the coronavirus]. This is, of course, not true,” says Erik De Clercq, an emeritus professor of medicine at KU Leuven in Belgium, who helped discover the HIV antiviral tenofovir. De Clercq believes scientists should focus on developing compounds tailored to the new virus.

Instead of being in a hurry [to test] all known compounds—what they now call ‘repurposing a compound,’—we really need new compounds that are specific for [the coronavirus] and would be the subject of clinical trials,” he says. But until such compounds can be developed and tested, De Clercq says he is hopeful that remdesivir—an experimental drug that was originally developed to treat Ebola and has also proved effective against the SARS and MERS viruses in vitro—could be effective. (Gilead, which manufactures remdesivir, developed tenofovir and other antiviral drugs based on compounds De Clercq co-discovered.)


Nanobiochip Detects Minute Levels Of Disease

The difficulty in spotting minute amounts of disease circulating in the bloodstream has proven a stumbling block in the detection and treatment of cancers that advance stealthily with few symptoms. With a novel electrochemical biosensing device that identifies the tiniest signals these biomarkers emit, a pair of NJIT inventors are hoping to bridge this gap. Their work in disease detection is an illustration of the power of electrical sensing – and the growing role of engineers – in medical research.

Ideally, there would be a simple, inexpensive test – performed at a regular patient visit in the absence of specific symptoms – to screen for some of the more silent, deadly cancers,” says Bharath Babu Nunna, a recent Ph.D. graduate who worked with Eon Soo Lee, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, to develop a nanotechnology-enhanced biochip to detect cancers, malaria and viral diseases such as pneumonia early in their progression with a pin prick blood test.

Their device includes a microfluidic channel through which a tiny amount of drawn blood flows past a sensing platform coated with biological agents that bind with targeted biomarkers of disease in body fluids such as blood, tears and urine – thereby triggering an electrical nanocircuit that signals their presence. In research recently published in Nano Covergence, Nunna and his co-authors demonstrated the use of gold nanoparticles to enhance the sensor signal response of their device in cancer detection, among other findings.

One of the device’s core innovations is the ability to separate blood plasma from whole blood in its microfluidic channels. Blood plasma carries the disease biomarkers and it is therefore necessary to separate it to enhance the “signal to noise ratio” in order to achieve a highly accurate test. The standalone device analyzes a blood sample within two minutes with no need for external equipment.

Our approach detects targeted disease biomolecules at the femto scale concentration, which is smaller than nano and even pico scale, and is akin to searching for a planet in a galaxy cluster. Current sensing technology is limited to concentrations a thousand times larger. Using a nanoscale platform allows us to identify these lower levels of disease,” Nunna says, adding, “And by separating the plasma from the blood, we are able to concentrate the disease biomarkers.”