A new coronavirus treatment developed at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center appears to have cured 29 of 30 moderately-ill and seriously-ill COVID-19 patients, the hospital said. The patients were released within 3 to 5 days of being treated.
This was only the first stage of trials and many months and thousands of patients will have to be treated before anything definitive can be said about the treatment. But the drug apparently works on the immune system to prevent a cytokine storm, which often leads to critical illness and death.
Nadir Arber, the professor who invented the potential treatment, hailed the announcement as a “huge breakthrough.” The substance, known as EXO-CD24 will now move on to Phase 2 of the trials, which involve large-scale human testing.
The medicine fights the cytokine storm — a potentially lethal immune overreaction to the coronavirus infection that is believed to be responsible for much of the deaths associated with the disease.
It uses exosomes — tiny carrier sacs that shuttle materials between cells — to deliver a protein called CD24 to the lungs, which Arber has spent decades researching.
“This protein is located on the surface of cells and has a well known and important role in regulating the immune system,” said researcher Shiran Shapira of Arber’s lab.
The interesting thing about a treatment that attacks cytokine storms is that scientists around the world have been looking at ways to “shut off” the overreaction of the immune system as a path to a cure for COVID-19. It was known early on that any cure would necessarily have to find the appropriate cytokine in order to target it. Have the Israeli scientists found a cure?
‘The medicine is administered through inhalation, once a day, in a procedure that takes only a few minutes, for five days,” Prof Arber specified.
“It is based on exosomes that the body is releasing from the cell membrane and uses for intercellular communication. We enrich the exosomes with the 24CD protein, which is known to play an important role in regulating the immune system,” according to Prof Arber’s director of laboratory Dr. Shiran Shapira, who has been conducting research on CD24 protein for over two decades.
Even if the substance won’t help everybody, it shows promise as being an effective treatment for many.
[Israel’s] former coronavirus coordinator Prof Ronni Gamzu hailed the breakthrough as “excellent,” saying he would personally assist Prof Arber to secure the Health Ministry’s go-ahead to test the medication on a wider pool of patients.
“I’m proud that here at Ichilov we are among the world leaders in finding the cure for the horrible epidemic,” said Prof Gamzu, who has now returned to his position as the hospital’s CEO.
Another plus for XO-CD24 is that it’s inexpensive. Even if the vaccines become widely available, a relatively cheap drug to treat anyone who gets sick would be welcome.
It’s possible that in 5 or 10 years, people will look back on 2020 and wonder what all the fuss was about.