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AstraZeneca Cancer Drug Shows Early Signs of Promise in Covid-19

June 5, 2020, 6:00 PM

A small study in 19 people suggested a drug from AstraZeneca Plc’s arsenal of cancer treatments may be repurposed to help Covid-19 patients experiencing extreme immune reactions.

Many patients with Covid-19 suffer from an inflammatory condition, sometimes called cytokine storm, when the immune system overreacts to the virus. Astra’s drug, Calquence, belongs to a class known as BTK inhibitors that target a protein that affects inflammation, and may help quell the complication.

Nine of 11 hospitalized patients who initially needed oxygen were able to leave the hospital after getting Calquence, which is approved to treat lymphoma. Of the remaining two patients one is still hospitalized, while the other died.

Among eight patients who needed mechanical ventilation, four were taken off breathing apparatuses by the end of their treatment and no longer required additional oxygen, while the other four died. The drug will need to be tested in a larger study and compared against a placebo to confirm its value. AstraZeneca has started two mid-stage studies of the medicine in hospitalized patients experiencing cytokine storm.

Treatment ranged from 10 to 14 days, and oxygen levels in most patients’ blood improved within the first three days, according to the study published in Science Immunology. AstraZeneca partnered with the U.S. National Institutes of Health for the trial.

Astra has become a key player in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, working with the University of Oxford to develop a vaccine considered a front-runner in the race to produce a shot. The British drugmaker said Thursday it now has capacity to make about 2 billion doses of the vaccine if successful.

While vaccine makers are racing to come up with an immunization, and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir has emergency use authorization for hospitalized patients, more therapies are needed to treat some of the symptoms of the virus. Having a large number of available medicines will be key as economies open back up and international travel resumes.

AstraZeneca is also testing its diabetes drug Farxiga in treating some of the more severe complications of Covid-19.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Cristin Flanagan in New York at cflanagan1@bloomberg.net;
Suzi Ring in London at sring5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net

John Lauerman, Timothy Annett

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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