Harvard is working with Boston hospitals to test existing cystic fibrosis drug to help coronavirus p

Researchers at Harvard University announced this week it will begin examining if an existing drug used to treat cystic fibrosis could provide benefits to patients with severe cases of coronavirus.

Harvard will conduct the research in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The focus for researchers is Dornase alfa, also known as DNase 1 or Pulmozyme. It is FDA-approved to help patients with cystic fibrosis and is meant to break up thick mucus secretions and prevent lung infections.

The drug may also break up neutrophil extracellular traps, or NETs, which scientists believe contribute to lung inflammation, Harvard said.

The promise of the drug pertaining to coronavirus is that patients with COVID-19 have experienced thick mucus in their lung similar to that of cystic fibrosis. Dornase alfa could also break up NETs, also seen in COVID-19 patients.

Assuming either takes place, dornase alfa could make it easier to deliver oxygen through the ventilator for patients with coronavirus.

“We hope this drug, which is known to be safe, will help reduce the inflammation that contributes to worsening respiratory distress in COVID-19,” the study’s lead investigator, Benjamin Raby said in a statement.

Raby is a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and chief of pulmonary medicine at Boston Children’s.

The 18-month study will randomize patients and provide some with dornase alfa and others with a placebo soon after placement on a ventilator.

Patients will receive twice-daily nebulized treatments through the ventilator tubing, Harvard said.

Raby and colleagues will monitor them for up to 28 days, or until they come off the ventilator, whichever is sooner, the school said. Neither the researchers nor the patients or their families will know which treatment is being given.

The study will track how many patients in each group are alive and ventilator free after the 28 days. The study will also look at resistance to breathing, the lung’s ability to stretch and expand, blood oxygenation and length of stay in the ICU and hospital.

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