Cancer Drug May Reduce Risk Of Death For Hospitalized COVID Patients

An experimental drug for fighting cancer may be a lifesaver for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

In a new study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers found that sabizabulin, an experimental cancer drug, reduced the risk of death for COVID-19 patients by about 55%.

In line with this, Miami-based drug developer Veru has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency authorization of sabizabulin. If approved, the drug would provide another treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Per Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, Canada, the drug seems “super impressive.”

“We have a small number of treatments for patients with severe disease that improve mortality, but another treatment that can further reduce deaths would be very welcome,” he told The New York Times.

Dr. Schwartz cautioned that the trial was relatively small since only 134 patients received the drug.

“Overall, I think this is very exciting, although I would welcome larger and independent confirmatory studies,” he added.

Originally developed by researchers at the University of Tennessee to fight cancer, the drug was first tested on COVID-19 two years ago. Veru researchers suspected the drug could prevent viral replication since it depends on the microtubule network to bring together the pieces of new viruses.

In early 2020, researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center found that the drug tamped down the mouse cell alarm signals. Veru began testing the drug in people a few months later before it advanced to a late-stage trial in May 2021.

The death rates were significantly different for the 134 volunteers who took the drug and 70 who got a placebo. About 45% of the placebo group died, compared to the 20% of the treatment group.

But Veru had to halt the trials ahead of schedule, citing that it’s unethical to continue giving some patients a placebo because of how effective the drug is.

For Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, while he agrees with the ethical demands of the situation, he predicted the drug’s effects might have been more modest had the trial lasted longer.

“Trials which are stopped early routinely overestimate the effect,” he said.

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