As we age, the human body undergoes many changes, several organs start showing symptoms of old age—vision issues, joint pain, and many—since the immunity system gradually declines. This might explain why elderly people are at the massive risk of novel Coronavirus infection. Even if the world gets one effective vaccine, there are chances that it may not work on elderly people effectively, according to experts. So, what will be the solution?
Matt Kaeberlein, a gerontologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that "no [COVID-19] vaccine is going to be as effective in the elderly as it is in young people." Earlier, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a Coronavirus vaccine would have to safeguard at least half of the Americans to make it work. But as there are possibilities that the vaccine won't work on elderly people, scentists hope that drugs that rejuvenate the immune system will help this group of people.
Researchers are finding a way to tweak the COVID-19 vaccine shot itself for a stronger response. There are some flu vaccines that include higher doses of viral antigen or immunity-boosting ingredients. But as per some scientists, there is a better way.
Researchers are now developing and testing some drugs which could improve how older people respond to vaccines. They believe that this process might also help the old adults to fight against the viruses more effectively in the first place as the scientists are planning to rejuvenate it.
Immunity Booster and Coronavirus
There is a class of anti-aging drugs that inhibit a protein known as mTOR—which lengthens lifespan in animals from fruit flies to mice, as per lab tests. This protein is one of "probably multiple biologic mechanisms" that contribute to the human aging system and the organs start to decline, said Joan Mannick, the co-founder, and chief medical officer of resTORbio, a Boston-based company that aims to develop anti-aging therapies.
Mannick and her colleagues tried damping down the protein in elderly people to see whether it could improve the immune system and lower infection rates. As per their study, which was published in 2018, the participants who received the anti-aging drug had fewer infections and also improved the response to the flu shots.
In 2019, the researchers started a phase III trial to find out if a similar mTOR inhibitor called RTB101 could do the same in older people, suffering from respiratory illnesses. But the trial failed to show expected effects, as the infections were monitored by self-report of symptoms, instead of a lab test to confirm the infection.
However, data gathered from this trial and other studies indicated that trial participants who were given the mTOR inhibitor had shown fewer severe infections from the Coronavirus and also recovered faster than other groups of people who received a placebo.
As the trials suggested that the RTB101 could lessen the severity of the novel Coronavirus caused disease, COVID-19, the biotech company resTORbio, is now testing the idea the same idea in 550 nursing-home residents who are aged 65 and over. RTB101 is similar to the immune-suppressing drug called rapamycin, which is currently under the trial period by some other group of researchers.
This year after the Coronavirus hit the world, Fulcrum Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts — the company currently developing losmapimod — started a study to find out whether the drug could prevent death and respiratory failure in older adults hospitalized with novel Coronavirus infection.
There are two flu vaccines that are aimed specifically at people above 65 that help worn immune systems to boost the response. One of them, Fluzone High-Dose — contains four times the standard amount of flu virus antigens — and Fluad — relies on an immune-boosting molecule.
As per scientists, a medication for boosting the immunity could be used with any vaccine. Claire Chougnet, an immunologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio said, "That could work for flu, that could work for COVID-19. That would work for COVID-25," as the approach is "extremely versatile."