Five key genes are linked to the most serious form of COVID-19, scientists said on Friday, in an investigation that also pointed to several existing drugs that could be reused to treat people who are at risk of becoming seriously ill with the pandemic disease.
Researchers studying the DNA of 2,700 COVID-19 patients in 208 intensive care units in Britain found that five genes involved in two molecular processes – antiviral immunity and lung inflammation) were central to many severe cases.
“Our results immediately highlight which drugs should be at the top of the list for clinical trials,” said Kenneth Baillie, academic consultant in intensive care medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who co-led the research.
The genes, called IFNAR2, TYK2, OAS1, DPP9 and CCR2, partially explain why some people get desperately ill with Covid-19, while others are unaffected, Baillie said.
The findings, published in the journal Nature, should help scientists accelerate the search for potential drugs for COVID-19 by conducting clinical trials of drugs that target specific antiviral and anti-inflammatory pathways.
Among those with the most potential, he said, there should be a class of anti-inflammatory drugs called JAK inhibitors, which includes the arthritis drug baricitinib, made by Eli Lilly.
Baillie’s team also found that an increase in the activity of the INFAR2 gene could create protection against COVID-19, because it is likely to mimic the effect of interferon treatment.
Several existing drugs are being explored in clinical trials for their potential against COVID-19, including interferon-beta-1a, the interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, and Sanofi’s arthritis drug Kevzara.
Until now, a steroid called dexamethasone and a newly developed antiviral called remdesivir, made by Gilead, are the only drugs licensed worldwide to treat COVID-19 patients, although remdesivir is not recommended for severe cases of the disease and has had mixed results. in trials.
Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Eli Lilly’s antibody drug for COVID-19, bamlanivimab, for patients who are not hospitalized but who are at risk of serious illness due to their age. or other conditions.