Scientists across the world are working round the clock to find a cure for COVID-19. While some are looking at the development of new treatment options, some are turning to repurposing of existing drugs to fight the deadly disease. One such drug that seems to show some promise is AstraZeneca's cancer drug, Calquence.

According to reports, Calquence, which is used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a common form of adult leukaemia, has shown preliminary signs of providing relief to patients hospitalized for the coronavirus infection.

Exploring The Drug's New Use

The British drugmaker was encouraged exploration of the new use for Calquence based on the results from a preliminary study that comprised of 19 patients. The research was supported by the United States National Institutes of Health. It was announced in April that the drug would be used in a larger clinical trial, reported Reuters.

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Treating Patients With Calquence

Of the 19 patients, 11 had been receiving oxygen while they began the 10-14 day course of Calquence. Eight of them were discharged later, being able to breathe independently without the additional oxygen supplementation. This was according to the results published in a paper co-authored by Jose Baselga, head of oncology research at AstraZeneca.

Mechanical ventilation was being provided to eight patients before the commencement of the Calquence treatment. Of these, four could be discharged. However, one succumbed to pulmonary embolism.

"These patients were in a very unstable situation, they would have had a dire prognosis ... Within one to three days the majority of these patients got better in terms of ventilation and oxygen needs," Baselga told Reuters.

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Dealing With Cytokine Storms

Studies have shown that the condition of several COVID-19 patients is triggered and worsened by a sudden immunological aberration known as a "cytokine storm". Cytokines are signaling proteins that regulate the immune system by attracting immune cells to the site of infection. This process of signaling immune cells is impeded and an erratic response or a "cytokine storm", harms healthy tissues.

This is where Calquence, which can suppress the parts of the immune system that lead to this haywire response, comes into play. Other drugs that are used to treat autoimmune diseases are also being evaluated for their capacity to restrain cytokine storm. Some of them are GlaxoSmithKline's Otilimab, Actemra and Morphosys from Roche, and Kevzara from Regeneron and Sanofi.

(With inputs from agencies)