TORONTO - A team of Canadian scientists reveal some promising results in a potential new treatment for Covid-19. An experimental antiviral drug, Peginterferon-Lambda, could be the next best tool in treating Covid-19 patients.
Results from a Phase 2 clinical trial, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine (February 5), suggest that treatment with the antiviral drug could speed up recovery for people infected with the virus. The news is encouraging as communities work towards curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease, University Health Network (UNH) led the study. Conducted as double-blind, randomized clinical trial in Toronto, it involved a group of sixty (outpatient) participants with laboratory confirmed mild to moderate Covid-19.
Half the study group received a one-time injection of the long-acting antiviral drug. The other half received the placebo.
According to the trial’s findings, 80% of patients who received the drug therapy had undetectable levels of the virus by day seven, compared to 63% in the placebo group.
The results were more significant in patients who registered higher levels of the virus in their system at the start of the trail. Those who received the antiviral treatment, 79% were able to reduce the amount of Covid-19 in their bodies at a faster rate compared to the placebo group, at 38%. Namely, treated patients were four times more likely to have cleared the infection within seven days. Scientists are excited about the results. It suggests that early treatment with the antiviral therapy may improve clinical outcomes, shorten the duration of the virus, potentially reduce transmission and perhaps halt the progression of the virus.
So how does it work? Interferons are naturally occurring proteins produced by the body in response to viral infections. They are the immune system’s early responders.
Dr. Feld told the Corriere Canadese, that the benefit of interferon-lambda is that it is more targeted and only active in certain parts of the body, namely, the liver, intestines and particularly the lungs.
Other interferons are more active throughout the body, which is good to fight infection, explains Dr. Feld.
“However,” he adds, “it means it is a little more prone to causing side effects, whereas interferon-lambda tends to have far fewer side effects”.
In the study, the group treated with the antiviral therapy had similar side-effects as those who received the placebo.
Further studies are needed to prove the drug’s effectiveness in treating people with Covid-19, but the results appear to be a step in the right direction. Currently, studies are underway evaluating the antiviral drug in hospitalized patients.
Researchers are looking forward to a Phase 3 trial which would include a larger group of individuals including seniors and more vulnerable populations. The importance of this research comes at a time when more transmissible Covid-19 variants circulate throughout communities. Compounding concerns are the issues associated with vaccine roll-out and their effectiveness over the new virulent strains.
Dr. Feld points out that “interferon- lambda works on the person, rather than the virus. Having a treatment like this that will not be affected by the sequence or strain of the virus could be quite important”. It is further hope.