New Delhi: Researchers at AIIMS, Delhi, are conducting trials on a popular cancer drug to see if it can slow the assault of Covid-19 inside the human body.
The trials involving imatinib are already underway on 100 “mildly symptomatic” patients and the results are expected by July, a researcher involved in the study told ThePrint.
It became a popular case-study in India’s patent regime when it was denied a patent by the Supreme Court in 2013 under a landmark decision to prevent “evergreening” of patents.
Imatinib works by targeting different tyrosine kinases — the enzymes that help control how cells grow and divide as a primary function.
Akash Kumar, the principal investigator of the AIIMS trial, told ThePrint that the drug had shown “inhibitory activity in the early phases of SARS and MERS coronavirus infection, studied in laboratories”.
“The researchers have hypothesised that ‘imatinib’ by inhibiting ABL kinases (a family of tyrosine kinases), can have inhibitory activity in SARS CoV2 infection,” he added.
How it works
According to Kumar, the idea of the trial is to see if imatinib can inhibit coronavirus infection from worsening once it has happened.
Once the coronavirus enters the body, it has to invade cells before it can cause damage. The AIIMS trial seeks to investigate if the drug can prevent infection from worsening once the virus has entered the body and begun to manifest in mild symptoms.
“For example, if 100 viruses want to get in… and the drug stops, let’s say 50 viruses… the infection is less severe and the patient can be cured early,” Kumar said. “The objective is to decrease the viral load in patients so that the disease does not progress inside the body.”
The function is different from that of other drugs under trial for the coronavirus, like remdesivir.
“While remdesivir works by stopping the virus from multiplying inside the cell, imatinib stops the virus from entering the cell. It is the first stage of the beginning of the disease,” Kumar, an assistant professor at AIIMS’ department of medical oncology, added.
“We have to see if it (imatinib) also requires other medication to stop the replication of viruses that have entered the cells already,” he said.
Results expected by July
The AIIMS study is a randomised trial under which patients are administered a 600 mg oral dose of imatinib once daily for 14 days, against supportive care.
Patients are then tested for improvement on day seven and day 14. The researchers aim to study the duration of hospitalisation, duration of ventilator support or death over a 28-day period, apart from examining the safety factor.
AIIMS’ ethics committee gave its go-ahead to the trial on 20 April.
“The trial is half done. We are expecting to have final results within the next six weeks,” Kumar said.