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UNM Hospital to Launch Clinical Trials for COVID-19 Treatments

The University of New Mexico Hospital this week will launch its first two clinical trials of potential drug therapies to treat patients who have fallen ill from the novel coronavirus. The move is part of an urgent nationwide push to test potential treatments for the infection.

Nearly 150,000 Americans have tested positive for coronavirus infection so far, and more than 2,500 people have died – and a surge of new cases is predicted in coming weeks. But drugs are now becoming available that may potentially reduce mortality.

UNMH patients who have tested positive for the virus and are exhibiting pneumonia symptoms, may be offered treatment with remdesivir, an antiviral drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences, Inc., said Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research at the UNM Health Science Center.

Michelle S. Harkins, MD, chief of UNM’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, is taking the lead on that study. “We are working actively with Gilead to have this in place by the end of the week,” she said. “I have one patient on the drug now and am looking to enroll more.”

Remdesivir was developed to fight Ebola and Marburg viruses and has shown some activity against the MERS and SARS infections, which are related to the current coronavirus.

Patients at UNMH with a positive COVID-19 test who do not have pneumonia may be treated with a combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and azithromycin, an antibiotic.

Clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine are already underway at Columbia University, New York University and the Mayo Clinic. 

Hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has been a frontline treatment for malaria for more than 60 years. Laboratory studies have suggested that it might be effective against the novel coronavirus.

 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has accepted a donation of 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate from a pharmaceutical manufacturer, along with a million doses of a related compound called chloroquine from another manufacturer, for distribution to patients.

And over the weekend, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization to allow the drug to be distributed and prescribed to teen and adult COVID-19 patients when a clinical trial is not available. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies are planning clinical trials.

 Hydroxychloroquine was released with FDA action today from the national strategic reserves for patients in clinical trials, meaning UNMH will soon have a supply of the drug on hand for research studies.

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