Pathways Issue 5: Research to Combat COVID-19 | Page 7

A new clinical trial may uncover a treatment method for COVID-19 that could save countless lives worldwide . The study ’ s lead investigator Dr . Josef Penninger , professor of medical genetics at UBC , answers some key questions about the potential breakthrough research .

Why is it important to discover new treatment methods for COVID-19 , in addition to discovering a vaccine ?
It ’ s vital to improve treatment therapies now for people with COVID-19 so we can save lives until a safe vaccine is developed . Even when we have a vaccine , we ’ ll still need therapy and treatment for people who are already sick . Improving treatment is also a key step in quelling some of the fear , and helping the world adapt to the new normal .
Tell us about the clinical trial you ’ re leading .
We are running a placebo-controlled , double-blinded phase 2b clinical trial involving 200 patients with severe cases of COVID-19 in Austria , Germany , Denmark , the United Kingdom , the United States and Russia . One hundred patients are receiving standard COVID-19 care , while the other 100 are also receiving twiceper-day intravenous doses of soluble recombinant angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 ( or ACE2 )— an enzyme on the surface of cells in our organs , including the lungs , heart , gut , kidney , and blood vessels .
ACE2 is the critical entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2 , which causes COVID-19 . Basically , when any virus , including a coronavirus , enters our body , it must enter cells through a specific receptor — SARS-CoV-2 needs the entry gate ACE2 . But when we intravenously introduce more ACE2 into the body , the ACE2 enzymes look like receptor cells and essentially act as decoys for the virus . Therefore the virus cannot find the “ real ” gate anymore . We have already shown that this approach works by significantly reducing this novel coronavirus ’ infection rate .
When will you know if this treatment works ?
We hope to finish the trial by this fall . After we recruit the last patient , we can analyze the data and produce some conclusions , hopefully before the end of the year . The trial is also set up to allow for rapid approval of the drug — but of course , that will depend on the outcome and clinical benefits .
How would you describe the current state of COVID-19 treatment ?
The pandemic came quick and researchers around the world are working hard to improve treatments and discover new therapies to help patients cope and recover .
It ’ s important to remember that COVID-19 comes in varying stages , from mild to critically ill multi-organ failure , so we need different treatments and principles for different COVID-19 disease stages . Patients with COVID-19 can also die in different ways , including from blood clots , heart attacks , strokes and lung failure . Therefore , multiple drugs will treat different symptoms and stages of the disease .
We of course hope our treatment will be among the treatments that work . After all , ACE2 is at the centre of COVID-19 and therefore it makes sense to focus our efforts on this enzyme in the quest to find possible treatments .