Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the goals of scientists has been to find a drug that could effectively treat coronavirus. Over the months, while there was good news about vaccines, there was less hopeful news about treatments for COVID.
Fortunately, in recent weeks, important discoveries have been made that will help fight the virus. The latest one is a new experimental antiviral drug which, according to the researchers who are developing it, could speed up the recovery of those infected before they need to be hospitalized.
The study has been led by Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease from the University Health Network (UHN) in Canada. He tested peginterferon-lambda, as this new drug is called, in 60 volunteers, 30 of whom were given an injection of the drug and 30 a placebo. Phase 2 of this research took place between May and November. Phase 3 is expected to begin shortly.
Feld explains in the journal 'Lancet Respiratory Medicine' that "this treatment has great therapeutic potential, especially at this time, as we see aggressive variants of the virus spreading around the world that are less sensitive to both vaccines and antibody treatment". A single injection quadruples the ability to clear the virus in 7 days.
"The people who were treated eliminated the virus quickly, and the effect was more pronounced in those with the highest viral levels," the specialist reports. He also confirms that it produces "a faster improvement of respiratory symptoms".
The specific data from the study leave no room for doubt. In the participants who had a higher viral load, those who were treated had a 79% capacity to rapidly eliminate the virus, compared to 38% of the members of the placebo group.
This is an important point, as being able to rapidly clear viral levels prevents more severe cases from occurring and also reduces transmission to others. "If we can reduce the virus level quickly, people are less likely to transmit the infection to others and we can even shorten the time needed for self-isolation," insists Dr. Feld. Among the group of 60 participants, only five had severe respiratory symptoms, four of them from the placebo group.
What this drug does is introduce us to interferon-lambda, a protein that the body produces against viral infections. It has the ability to activate a series of cellular pathways to kill invading viruses.
The problem with SARS-CoV-2 is that, unlike other viruses, it prevents the body from creating interferons, thus preventing our immune system from acting. In addition, there is the fact that some interferons, although they activate many virus-killing pathways, cannot fight new strains.
But this does not happen with this treatment. It is different because it uses a receptor that is only present in some tissues of the body. It is very active in the lungs, liver and intestine, all places where the COVID-19 virus can replicate. In contrast, it is not found in other places, which greatly reduces the side effects that other types of interferons do. In the trial, those treated with interferon-lambda had similar side effects to those receiving placebo. In addition, it has the advantage that it can be administered with a single injection under the skin with a tiny needle.