New Delhi: A medical study by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is set to test whether a drug used to treat sepsis and liver cirrhosis can reduce the risk of death in critically ill Covid-19 patients.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has research teams across the world scrambling to find a treatment or vaccine for the disease that has no known cure. Since developing a new treatment from scratch can take years, researchers are looking to repurpose existing drugs to help patients fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.
Ram. A. Vishwakarma, director, CSIR Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) in Jammu, told ThePrint that the drug to be tested — Sepsivac — was developed in partnership with pharmaceutical company Cadila in 2007.
“In this situation, we don’t have the time to embark on a new drug discovery program. This drug is already approved for sepsis caused by gram-negative bacteria and is tested to be safe in human beings,” Vishwakarma said.
The team has received approval from the Drug Controller General of India to test the drug on 50 patients. These trials will take place among patients in AIIMS Delhi, AIIMS Bhopal, and PGI-Chandigarh.
How the drug works
The drug is synthesised by culturing a bacteria called Mycobacterium w in a large scale, which is inactivated by heat. A number of proteins on the surface of the bacteria triggers a desirable immune response.
Sepsis is a condition that occurs due to an overactive or inflammatory immune response that occurs when a pathogen enters the blood plasma, leading to organ dysfunction which can be fatal.
Sepsis caused by gram-negative bacteria has a pathology similar to that of Covid-19, Vishwakarma said.
“Initially our body tries to defend itself against viruses by using its innate immune system. After four-five days, when the body cannot fight off the pathogens, it employs a higher level of defence — which is what causes the cytokines storm,” Vishwakarma added.
Cytokines are small proteins secreted as a result of different types of interactions between cells. In the novel coronavirus infection, this heightened release of cytokines is common in critically ill patients.
“This high level of immune response starts to damage the body’s organs. That is what is causing the multi-organ failure that we are seeing in Covid-19 patients,” Vishwakarma said.
To fight viruses there are usually two approaches — developing a drug against the virus itself or creating an ‘immunomodulator’ which helps our immune system in fighting off the virus.
Sepsivac falls into the second category, Vishwakarma said.