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Research Roundup: A repurposed drug and antibodies for COVID-19 and the impact of blood type
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
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Dexamethasone, an inexpensive, decades-old drug is showing promise for treating COVID-19, per unpublished, preliminary results from a study called Recovery that was funded by the United Kingdom. The preliminary results indicated that the drug reduced the risk of death for patients on ventilators by 35 percent, those receiving oxygen by 20 percent, and overall mortality by 17 percent. Immediately following the results, the United Kingdom granted approval for use of the drug to treat COVID-19. According to FiercePharma, UK officials have enough dexamethasone stockpiled to treat 200,000 patients.
A recent study lends support to anecdotal evidence that blood type and genetics may be linked to worse outcomes from COVID-19 illness. Last Wednesday, a team of European researchers published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine indicating that people with type A blood have a 45 percent higher risk of catching COVID-19 and sliding into respiratory failure and people with type O blood have a 35 percent lower risk of developing respiratory failure compared to people with other blood types. Scientists are still unsure why blood type might be correlated with COVID-19 outcomes, but a nascent hypothesis is that it could be linked to blood clotting risk. The researchers also found that a cluster of genes are associated with higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 by 77 percent.
A project led by researchers from Scripps Research, GHTC member IAVI, and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine published research in Science detailing a set of antibodies discovered in recovered COVID-19 patients that provide powerful protection against SARS-CoV-2. In theory, the antibodies could be given to patients who are just developing the illness to prevent progression to severe disease and to protect people who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. To discover the antibodies, the scientists isolated more than 1,000 distinct antibody-producing immune cells, obtained genetic sequences from these cells to produce more antibodies, and then tested the antibodies’ effectiveness against blocking the virus in vitro. The researchers discovered several antibodies that, even in small quantities, could block the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, IAVI, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.