Two drugs companies in the UK are collaborating with the universities of Birmingham and Oxford as part of a major trial to test potential therapeutics to treat patients hospitalised with COVID-19, according to a statement.
The CATALYST trial, a collaboration with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), will test a series of new drugs, including those already in use for patients with cancer and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Oxford based biopharmaceutical company Izana Bioscience will provide the first of four potential treatments to be tested, according to the statement by the University of Birmingham.
Namilumab is a fully human monoclonal antibody already in late-stage trials to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and an inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis, it said.
The drug targets a 'cytokine' called GM-CSF (granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor), which is naturally secreted by immune cells in the body but, in uncontrolled levels.
The cytokine is believed to be a key driver of the excessive and dangerous lung inflammation seen in COVID-19 patients, the university said.
The second drug, Infliximab developed by Slough based Celltrion Healthcare UK, is an anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy that is designed to attach to a protein involved in inflammation, according to the statement.
It is currently used as a treatment for other inflammatory conditions including eight autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome under the trade name Remsima. It is hoped that by using drugs that target the most serious symptoms of the virus, the severity of the disease could be reduced leading to a reduction in the number of patients needing to be admitted to intensive care and ultimately, a reduction in virus related deaths, the university said.
"There has been a tremendous effort to pull together this initiative so rapidly. Emerging evidence is demonstrating a critical role for anti-inflammatory drugs in the cytokine storm associated with severe COVID-19 infection," said Ben Fisher, co-clinical investigator of the CATALYST trial from the University of Birmingham's Institute of Inflammation and Ageing.
"In the CATALYST study we hope to show with a single dose of these kinds of drugs in hospitalised patients, that we are able to delay or prevent the rapid deterioration into intensive care and requirement for invasive ventilation in this critical patient group," Fisher said.
"We hope that by using a treatment that is already used to treat inflammation in other autoimmune conditions we may be able to manage inflammation associated with COVID-19 early," said Marc Feldmann, Professor of Immunology, University of Oxford.
"If, when people are initially admitted to hospital, we are able to keep symptoms within manageable levels, this may reduce the number of patients who need to be admitted to intensive care," said Feldmann.