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Anticancer drug shows efficacy against severe COVID-19

covid-19 patient

A small trial shows that the anticancer drug bevacizumab is extremely effective in reducing severe COVID-19 symptoms.

The results have been published in Nature Communications and the Novo Nordisk Foundation has reported about the findings.

“The results are very promising. We hope that this initial trial can pave the way for larger randomized controlled trials to obtain supportive clinical evidence that bevacizumab can reduce the number of people who become severely ill or die from COVID-19.”

A new study with participants from Italy and China shows that bevacizumab can significantly reduce severe respiratory symptoms and fever from COVID-19. It can also reduce the risk of dying from COVID-19 and alleviate a severe COVID-19 trajectory.

“The results are very promising. We hope that this initial trial can pave the way for larger randomized controlled trials to obtain supportive clinical evidence that bevacizumab can reduce the number of people who become severely ill or die from COVID-19. The disease may not be so intimidating if we can demonstrate this,” says a researcher behind the new study, Yihai Cao, Professor, Department of Microbiology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and Honorary Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

An anti-VEGF drug

Cao and his colleagues hypothesized that anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) may strongly influence COVID-19 symptoms. VEGF is best known as a signalling molecule in forming new blood vessels and therefore plays an important role in restoring the blood supply to cells and tissues when they lack oxygen. However, VEGF also induces vascular leakiness in lung tissue among people with COVID-19, leading to fluid accumulation in the alveoli of the lungs and poorer oxygenation of the lung tissue. VEGF is also involved in pneumonia and appears to be especially active in COVID-19.

“We therefore hypothesized that blocking VEGF could reduce some COVID-19 symptoms, including shortness of breath. Bevacizumab is promising because it is an anti-VEGF drug that has already been approved for treating humans,” says Cao.

The clinical trial

In a clinical trial with participants from China and Italy, 26 people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 who needed supplemental oxygen were treated with bevacizumab to relieve their symptoms.

The results showed that a single dose of bevacizumab improved the oxygen-support status of 92% of the participants, and 17 were discharged during the 28-day follow-up without any deaths. No one had increased respiratory problems. Fever was reduced within 3 days among 13 of 14 participants with high fever. The participants treated with bevacizumab experienced greater improvement in blood oxygen saturation and less need for supplemental oxygen than those not treated.

“Oxygen saturation began to improve within 24 hours. The results were consistent no matter how long people had been ill beforehand. These are quite significant results,” says Cao.

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