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Infectious Diseases

14 May 2020

Could a sickle cell anaemia drug help prevent lung damage in Covid-19 patients?

As scientists try to repurpose existing drugs to alleviate the worst outcomes of Covid-19, a study is investigating if the drug senicapoc can mitigate lung damage.

While a vaccine against the novel coronavirus is still a pipe dream, researchers are looking towards existing drugs to buy time and help fight the most severe cases of Covid-19.

One of the drugs being researched is senicapoc, a treatment for sickle cell anaemia, a blood abnormality where red blood cells are unable to produce a sufficient amount of oxygen. Although the drug was found safe for use in clinical trials, it did little to actually reduce sickle cell anaemia and was not used.

Now, a team consisting of John Olichney, the clinical core director for the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center; Heike Wulff, a professor of pharmacology; and other UC Davis researchers have been looking at senicapoc and its effect on stroke and Alzheimer’s disease according to a news release.

READ MORE: Sickle cell anaemia and your risk for Covid-19  what you should know 

How will the drug work for Covid-19?

"In the Alzheimer's research field, it is becoming more evident that the immune system often results in excess inflammation and certain cytokines that can interfere with the synapse and its memory functions," Olichney stated.

As we now know from previous reports, a cytokine storm is a possible effect from Covid-19 that can cause severe symptoms and even death in patients.

Now, further research showed that senicapoc can prevent the lung damage that stems from severe acute respiratory syndrome as the drug has a combination of effects – blocking a severe immune response and blocking lung secretions.

"By using senicapoc, we don't treat the viral infection, but we prevent or slow the development of the disease that leads to severe damage to the lungs," Simonsen explained.

Clinical trial to start

The research will consist of a clinical trial in Denmark, where 46 patients in intensive care with low blood oxygen saturation levels will be given the drug. The results will then be shared within a couple of months.

"When a person is infected with Covid-19, the worst-case scenario is that they will suffer severe lung disease that could lead to death," Simonsen said in the news release. "This is the situation where the need for treatment with a ventilator occurs. It's also here that we hope the senicapoc treatment can make a difference – if only so that the patients require a shorter period on a ventilator."

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