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Roche drug in Covid trial

Posted 12 May 2020

Queensland researchers are gearing up to trial Roche's immunoregulatory drug Actemra in critically ill patients with COVID-19, based on the hope that the drug can interrupt a process that contributes to severe respiratory failure.

While there are a number of randomised controlled trials around the world evaluating the drug, lead researcher Bridget Barber from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute says the Brisbane trial is important.

Actemra, is an IL6-inhibitor, blocking the inflammatory response thought to contribute to severe respiratory failure that can occur in the second week of the COVID-19 illness.

"We think it's this inflammatory response - caused by some parts of the immune system over-reacting to the virus - that is making these patients so unwell," Barber said.

A Roche spokesperson told Pharma in Focus, "the fact that many companies and institutions are now working together to fight this complex disease will hopefully increase the collective scientific understanding of COVID-19 and translate to more options for patients".

If Australia does see an increase in cases in the coming months, the Actemra trial will be available to critically ill patients at participating hospitals.

Meanwhile, the Australian Defence Force is seeking up to 700 volunteers to participate in a clinical trial of chloroquine as a preventative measure against COVID-19.

In a report to the Senate Select committee on COVID, the ADF said 42 healthcare volunteers had enrolled in and commenced the 14 week trial.

"Additional volunteers, both civilian and ADF personnel, will commence pre-enrolment but further participation will depend on the transmission rate of COVID-19 within the community, which is currently low."

Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research are also developing a test that detects whether - and when - a person was exposed to COVID-19.

Lead researcher professor Ivo Mueller said many tests for immunity show whether a person is positive or negative in regard to having antibodies, but their test can pinpoint how long ago a person was exposed to an infection.

"This is not a tool for diagnosing individual people, but rather monitoring COVID-19 disease spread in populations."

Tiffany Walker

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