British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has confirmed plans to launch a global clinical trial testing one of its drugs in treating the extreme immune response triggered by Covid-19 in severely ill patients.
The Cambridge-based drugs group said it was rushing through testing for Calquence – which is currently used to treat some blood cancers – after encouraging early clinical results suggested that suppressing the inflammation caused by the immune response could reduce the respiratory harm caused by coronavirus.
This could cut deaths from Covid-19 and the need for ventilation in patients with life-threatening symptoms of the virus, Astra said.
It marks the group’s fastest ever trial launch, which is expected to open in the coming days across the US and several countries in Europe.
Jose Baselga, executive vice-president of oncology research and development at Astra, said: “With this trial we are responding to the novel insights of the scientific community and hope to demonstrate that adding Calquence to best supportive care reduces the need to place patients on ventilators and improves their chances of survival.
“This is the fastest launch of any clinical trial in the history of AstraZeneca.”
Covid-19 can trigger an exaggerated immune system response in some patients with the virus, which increases the impact on the respiratory system and is one of the factors that makes the virus so deadly.
Astra’s trial, called Calavi, will look at the use of Astra’s drug Calquence – or acalabrutinib – in supportive care for Covid-19 patients to boost their chances of survival.
Louis Staudt, chief of the lymphoid malignancies branch at the National Cancer Institute, said: “Given the well documented role of the protein BTK in regulating inflammation, it is possible that inhibiting BTK with acalabrutinib could provide clinical benefit in patients with advanced Covid-19 lung disease.
“As with all new treatments, it will be necessary to gather data from clinical trials in order to understand the best and safest treatment options for patients.”