Bay Area researchers race to find effective drug to treat COVID-19

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Friday, June 26, 2020
Bay Area researchers race to find drug to treat COVID-19
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The novel coronavirus crisis has launched an intense search for drugs to treat the virus, both here in the Bay Area and around the world.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus crisis has launched an intense search for drugs to treat the virus, both here in the Bay Area and around the world.

As researchers scramble to identify new drugs, the strategy is to hit this enemy from all sides and after roughly 100 days, some blows have landed, others have missed.

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However, the majority of drugs are still circling the ring.

"There are plenty of things that are out there to be tested. There are probably 90 different drugs out there, and there's probably a short list of 10 to 20 that might make a difference," says UCSF researcher Dr. Laura Esserman, M.D.

Dr. Esserman and her colleagues have turned their nationwide clinical trial network, known as "I-Spy", from its traditional focus on cancer drugs towards the coronavirus.

The idea is to fast-track short term trials of existing drugs through more than a dozen major research centers. Everything from drugs that might treat organ damage from COVID-19 to anti-virals that might attack it head-on.

"We actually have Remdesivir in there, so we'll have an anti-viral and we will add to it, drugs that alter the immune system, so dampen down the response of the immune system to people don't get such a severe reaction," explains Dr. Esserman.

She points out that fast-track studies have all but taken some drugs off the table, like Hydroxychloroquine, which was touted by President Trump. While a sweeping study in England quickly identified a commonly used steroid that may help some of the sickest patients survive potential respiratory failure.

Dr. Carolyn Calfee studies Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome at UCSF and says the new clues need to be followed up.

"So I think we're all incredibly hopeful. But we need to see the data," she cautions.

While a few miles down the road at Stanford another significant trial is reaching its midpoint. Researchers are trying to learn whether a type of Interferon will reduce the virus load in a patient's lungs and air passages.

"And those are places we think the virus likes to stick and replicate," says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, M.D. of Stanford.

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If a drug proves valuable in one aspect of the COVID-19 puzzle, Dr. Maldanado believes it could potentially be included in an experimental drug cocktail.

"If you use these drugs in combination like we do with HIV where you have two, three, four drugs at a time, you actually wind up suppressing the virus. I think this is where we're headed," explains Dr. Maldonado.

She also believes data on antibody treatments, now being developed from survivors of COVID-19 may also be available soon, as the hunt for a workable vaccine also continues. It's a pace of discovery that builds on each small success and a fight that may may end with a flurry of punches, instead of a single knock-out blow.

Both Stanford and UCSF are recruiting for newly launched clinical trials, and are looking for volunteers who have just been diagnosed with COVID-19.

For more information, use the email or links below:

You can email which will activate a 24/7 pager and a Stanford trial representative will immediately contact the prospective volunteer., email: or phone: 415-326-3761 to reach recruiters for the UCSF COVID-19 drug study.

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