COVID-19: targeted treatment trial launched in ViennaDecember 22, 2020
|A phase II clinical trial of a treatment for COVID-19 patients is currently starting at the Medical University of Vienna as a sub-study of the Austrian CoronaVirus Adaptive Clinical Trial (ACOVACT), as an academia-industry collaboration (investigator Initiated trial) between Apogenix AG and its scientific consultant Henning Walczak and his teams at the University of Cologne and University College London (UCL). |
Apogenix said in the press release that the patients with severe to critical COVID-19 are now being treated with an immunotherapeutic drug, the Fas ligand blocker asunercept, from Apogenix within the framework of the Austrian CoronaVirus Adaptive Clinical Trial (ACOVACT).
The company noted that Acovact is a randomised, controlled, multi-centre, open-label clinical trial sponsored by MedUni Vienna.
Approach in the treatment of COVID-19
The study is based on a scientific concept made by Walczak and Bergmann together with Apogenix. In conjunction with results published by other researchers, they hypothesised that tissue damage and lung failure in patients with severe COVID-19 may in fact be the result of the overactivity of so-called death ligands rather than the viral infection itself, the company said. Death ligands are proteins normally produced by our own body in the course of immune defence, it explained. Furthermore, the immunotherapeutic that is now being trialled intercepts the death ligand known as Fas ligand or CD95 ligand.
“It appears that SARS-CoV-2 infection induces an overreaction of our immune system, resulting in overproduction of Fas ligand. This killer protein can then kill healthy, uninfected cells in the lungs of COVID-19 patients, thus causing lung damage,” said Walczak.
Bergmann explained that the concept of blocking cell death in the treatment of COVID-19 is a completely novel one.
The search for effective treatments for COVID-19 has mainly focused on drugs that aim to interfere either with the virus itself or with the effects of the cytokine storm, the press release reads.
“However, by the time doctors get to see patients, the viral load has normally already dropped substantially and the systemic cytokine storm was shown to be quite low in COVID-19 patients when compared to diseases such as septic shock, for example,” says Bergmann.
Christian Schörgenhofer, who is coordinating the trial together with Bernd Jilma both from MedUni Vienna’s Department of Clinical Pharmacology said that blocking the Fas ligand offers the opportunity to interfere with the cause of severe COVID-19. “By blocking cell death, we are preventing the fuel from feeding the fire rather than trying to put out a fire that is constantly fed,” he said.
Thomas Höger, Chief Executive Officer of Apogenix, hopes that the new therapeutic can help improve the treatment of severe COVID-19 and also see the therapeutic potential of such a treatment for other viral diseases such as Influenza.
The company added in its press release that this phase II clinical trial complements another stand-alone phase II clinical trial by Apogenix with the same therapeutic in patients with severe COVID-19 being conducted in Spain and Russia.