Photo: Steve Fisch/Stanford Medicine
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A team of Stanford Medicine scientists is trying to determine if a drug previously given to hepatitis patients can keep people who’ve just tested positive for the coronavirus out of the hospital.
The researchers have launched a clinical trial of a drug called interferon-lambda that will recruit 120 patients who have been recently diagnosed with mild COVID-19, according to Stanford Medicine’s website.
Interferon-lambda is a manufactured form of a naturally occurring protein, which, based on laboratory results and animal testing, may help control respiratory diseases such as influenza and SARS. Cell receptors for the drug are located in the linings of the lungs and intestine — the two main organs targeted by COVID-19 — and the liver.
The drug was given to more than 3,000 people infected with hepatitis viruses in previous clinical trials.
The best-known COVID-19 treatment to date is Gilead Science’s experimental drug Remdesivir, which has received emergency Food and Drug Administration approval. The drug made headlines last month when White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that human trials had encouraging results.
But Remdesivir is restricted to hospitalized patients, and 80 percent of those contracting COVID-19 are outpatients for whom no drugs have been proven safe and effective.
The Stanford scientists want to see if interferon-lambda can not only make hospitalization unnecessary, but also help patients recover faster and stem viral shedding, which would reduce transmission to family members and the community.
Trial participants will be randomly separated into two groups at Stanford Heath Care and given injections of either interferon-lambda or a placebo. They will be monitored for 28 days for symptoms, disease severity, viral shedding and hospitalization rate.
Dr. Prasanna Jagannathan, who is leading the study with another Stanford Medicine expert in infections diseases, Dr. Upinder Singh, said interferon-lambda’s safety profile “appears to be excellent.”
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Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate