Ichilov Medical team at the coronavirus unit. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90) Yossi Aloni/Flash90
coronavirus

While vaccines stop corona from spreading, cures are needed for those who still contract COVID-19.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Israeli research teams are working around the clock to find cures for the most severe cases of coronavirus, the Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

While new vaccines prevent the coronavirus from spreading, they are not a cure for COVID-19.

Furthermore, the vaccines are not 100% effective, meaning some people already vaccinated will get sick. The mutating nature of the virus also means the threat is changing, and it could take years to vaccinate billions of people around the world.

Israel’s hospitals and universities are collaborating with the biotech industry to develop novel treatments and drugs to help solve the crisis and keep people out of hospitals, the report noted.

Prof. Shlomo Maayan, head of the Infectious Disease Division at Barzilai Medical Center, said there is currently no single magical drug that can cure corona, and the solution is likely to be a “cocktail” of medicines similar to what is given for HIV treatment.

“The cocktail approach seems to be building up as more data accumulates,” Maayan told the Post.

These five are among the most promising treatments so far:

Stopping Mutations

RedHill Biopharma in Tel Aviv is in the middle of clinical trials on hundreds of patients for two coronavirus treatments, RHB-107 for outpatient use on early-stage cases and Opaganib for treating those hospitalized in serious condition.

The company’s chief operating officer, Gideon Raday, says his company’s treatments “address both existing and emerging mutations.”

RedHill says RHB-107 prevents the entrance of the virus into a person’s cells, stopping infection and has already demonstrated a strong ability to stop the viral replication of the coronavirus in pre-clinical trials. The company also completed Phase I and II studies of the drug for different indications, demonstrating its safety in around 200 patients.

“The ability to treat patients early in the course of COVID-19 disease, with an oral therapy designed to be used outside the hospital, and with a compound expected to be effective against emerging viral variants, has the potential to be a game changer in managing this disease,” said RedHill’s Terry Plasse.

The company is continuing to test both the drugs with Opaganib expected to maintain its activity irrespective of the worrisome mutations in the coronavirus. Dr. Mark Levitt, one of the company’s medical directors, said Opaganib “provides the promise of a much-needed treatment option to help get patients off oxygen and out of hospital.”

The FDA has already given Opaganib a preliminary designation after it was shown to have anticancer activity and has the potential to target multiple oncology, viral, inflammatory and gastrointestinal indications.

‘Miracle Cure’

Earlier this month Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital announced that 29 out of 30 serious to critically ill COVID-19 patients given a new treatment recovered and were sent home and that report received international attention.

The treatment developed by Prof. Nadir Arber’s lab is only in the early stages of its work, but the results are phenomenally promising.

The patients received EXO-CD24 that also fight’s the cytokine storm, but this treatment is inhaled once a day for five days and delivers the medicine directly to the lungs to calm the storm there.

Arber said that in all cases that oxygen levels increased, respiratory rates and cytokines in the blood decreased. And, subjectively, the patients said they felt better. The primary end point of the Phase I study was safety.

“We are now sure about the safety,” he said. “We have a good feeling about efficacy.”

“Me and my team have been at the hospital every day, including Friday and Saturday, for the last six months,” he said. “We are now full of excitement and hope that we can find a cure for this pandemic.”

The hospital is now moving forward with additional clinical trials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called EXO-CD24 a “miracle drug.”

“Even if the vaccines do what they are supposed to, and even if no new mutations are produced, then still, in one way or another, coronavirus will remain with us,” and Arber said his drug “can be produced rapidly, efficiently and reliably, and at a low cost.”

Calm the Storm

The new drug Allocetra shows amazing promise, with 19 out of 21 COVID-19 patients who were in serious or critical condition able to leave the hospital within a week after receiving the new treatment developed by researchers at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Allocetra treats a wide range of cases in which there is an overreaction of the immune system that causes something called a “cytokine storm” that occurs when the immune system essentially goes into overdrive and begins attacking healthy cells.

“I collect white blood cells from healthy donors. After engineering them to be in a dying state, I infuse them into the patients with COVID-19, patients who are in severe or critical condition, who are in the cytokine storm phase of the disease,” explained Prof. Dror Mevorach, saying that after infusing the patients with the cells the effect is evident.

In other words, these white blood cells, administered through the vein, calm the storm.

The drug developed in partnership with the Enlivex Company has also been successfully tested on sepsis and bone marrow transplant patients.

“One of the best things that we see is that we were able to significantly shorten the time at the hospital for these patients,” Mevorach said, adding that its use on coronavirus patients “could significantly reduce the burden on Israelis hospitals and those in other countries.”

Data on the drug use for treating COVID-19 is being sent to the FDA and the European Medicines Agency.

Turning Corona into the Common Cold

Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, director of Bio-engineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says he thinks he could downgrade COVID-19’s severity into nothing worse than a common cold by using the FDA-approved drug Fenofibrate.

Nahmias is collaborating with American researchers to show that Fenofibrate eliminates the replication of the coronavirus in the lungs, where the virus blocks the burning of fat cells that build up in infected lungs and provide an environment for the virus to reproduce. His data shows that with treatment the virus replication was eliminated in less than five days of treatment.

“Viruses are parasites. They cannot replicate by themselves. They have to get inside a human cell and hijack their machinery to replicate,” he explained, adding that the mechanism may help explain why patients with high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are often at a particularly high risk from COVID-19.

Working with hospitals in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Nahmias reviewed data on over 20,000 patients that showed showed those patients with coronavirus who were taking fibrates were protected from the virus, confirming his laboratory results.

“Patients that took fibrates were five days less in the hospital, had ICU admission rates drop from 44% to 7%. And their survival rate increased to about 100%. Within four to five days, for these patients, the pneumonia was gone,” he said.

Nahmias is working with the American Pharmaceutical company Abbott, which makes Fenofibrate, in Phase III clinical studies in Israel, South America, the United States and Europe.

“It will take several months,” he told the Post. “But at the end, we will know if we have a drug that can deal with coronavirus.”

Anti-Parasitic Agent

Prof. Eli Schwartz of the Tropical Disease at Sheba Medical Center said medicine Ivermectin has been used to fight parasites in developing countries and might help reduce the length of infection for people who contract coronavirus.

Last week Schwartz completed the first small test of 100 people with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19.

The study found that Ivermectin was shown to help “cure” people of the virus within just six days, shortening the time they are infectious.

“From a public health point of view, the majority of patients with corona are mild cases, and 90% of these people are isolated outside of the hospital,” Schwartz said.

He added that with additional testing he hopes his new study will “be a cornerstone to get this permission” for FDA approval to use Ivermectin to treat COVID-19

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