Doctors and nurses—many of whom are also researchers—are working around the clock at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) to treat patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Over the next several months, research teams and caregivers will treat patients using four different drugs in the course of multiple clinical trials using Sarilumab, Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine.
Infectious disease expert Thomas Campbell, MD, says it is important to remind the public of the lack of proven treatment options. “This virus has come upon us very quickly, and when we treat patients we have a very limited box of tools—most of which we have no idea if they work,” says Campbell, professor of infectious diseases in the CU School of Medicine and medical director of the CCTSI’s Clinical and Translational Research Center at University of Colorado Hospital. “So it is important to do carefully designed and controlled clinical research to find out what does work and what is safe.”
One of the studies Campbell is leading at UCH employs a therapeutic called Sarilumab (Regeneron Pharmaceuticals), which was previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It has been “fast tracked” by the FDA to use in the fight against COVID-19.
Sarilumab, an IL-6 receptor antagonist, works to calm what people have been calling the “cytokine storm” or a dangerous overreaction of the immune system. Some people who get very ill with COVID-19 have a very high inflammatory response even after the virus is no longer a threat, and the body continues to release cytokines, which may actually attack multiple organs including the lungs and liver. This suggests that the problems some patients experience in terms of respiratory failure may be driven by the body’s response against the virus. “And if that is true, then calming or attenuating the hyper-inflammatory response might prevent damage to the lung that drives respiratory failure,” Campbell says.