Cancer drug significantly reduces deaths in Covid patients

An experimental drug originally developed to fight cancer reduced the risk of death for Covid patients by more than half in one study. The drug sabizabulin reduced deaths among patients seeking hospital treatment for Covid infection by 55%.

The manufacturer, Veru, a US company based in Miami, has applied to the FDA for an emergency use permit for the drug, which is taken in pill form. This would expand the number of drugs available to Covid-19 patients. “It looks really impressive,” said Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta New York Times. Schwartz was not involved in the study. “We have a small number of treatments for patients with serious illnesses that reduce mortality, another treatment that can further reduce deaths would be very welcome.”

However, Schwartz cautioned against over-interpretation of the results, as the number of study participants with 134 patients receiving the drug was relatively small.

It should inhibit tumor growth

Sabizabulin blocks cells from building so-called microtubules. These are tubular protein structures that give cells shape and strength and carry material from inside the cell to other parts of the cell. Fast-growing cancer cells are dependent on microtubules, which is why the drug was developed by University of Tennessee researchers to stop the growth of cancer cells.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was investigated whether sabizabulin also had effects on Covid. The researchers suspected they could also use the drug to prevent the virus from multiplying in the body, as it also depends on the microtubule network.

After the tests with mice, the drug was tested on volunteers already hospitalized for Covid-19. Only patients who were receiving oxygen or who were on a ventilator were eligible. They must have been at high risk of dying from Covid, such as hypertension, old age or obesity.

Other studies

In the study that has now been published, 134 volunteers received sabizabulin and 70 a placebo. Over the course of 60 days, the mortality rates of the two groups differed significantly. 45.1% of the placebo group died, compared with 20.2% of those who received the new drug. This difference resulted in a 55.2% reduction in the risk of death.

The study was stopped early because an independent advisory committee determined that the drug’s benefits were becoming apparent. They decided it would be unethical to continue giving some patients a placebo.

To definitively assess the effect of the drug, however, further studies are needed.

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