Regeneron Pharmaceuticals this week initiated test trials of an arthritis drug as a potential remedy for the worst symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The biotech giant announced Monday it launched a clinical program using Kevzara, a commercial medicine that treats active rheumatoid arthritis, and recruiting hospitalized patients experiencing severe symptoms of the respiratory illness.
“We did something that’s never been done in record time,” launching a study in New York state “where we’re going to already be treating patients with this,” Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer Dr. George Yancopoulos told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Tuesday.
The Regeneron co-founder and president hopes within a few weeks that results will support findings from China, where health officials tried a variety of medicines to combat the disease as the virus spread quickly. Kevzara is an antibody that could help prevent the lungs from triggering an overactive inflammatory response, Regeneron said.
“The one thing everybody got excited about is something that blocked inflammation. This was done in an uncontrolled way, not a randomized controlled study,” Yancopoulos said in the “Mad Money” interview.
Regeneron is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to get the trials underway, he added.
If successful, it could be used as an immediate remedy for patients in critical condition.
″[W]e’re going to be hopefully seeing within a few weeks whether this really replicates and confirms the positive suggestions that are coming out of China,” Yancopoulos said. “If they are, it means for the most seriously ill patients we may have something that keeps them from having to go on ventilators or be able to maybe take off ventilators.”
Regeneron is working on the clinical program with Sanofi, the French drugmaker leading the study abroad. The biotech companies co-developed Kevzara, which received FDA approval in 2017.
The U.S. trial will launch in medical centers in New York, the state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and is expected to enroll as many as 400 patients in more than a dozen states. The second phase of the program will study long-term outcomes, according to a press release.
“This could in a very short time give hope to the most critical people,” Yancopoulos said.
Outside of the Kevzara trial, Regeneron announced Tuesday it plans to begin testing a coronavirus antibody treatment on humans sooner than once expected. The company moved its timeline up for human testing from late summer to early summer.
There are more than 7,300 confirmed cases in the United States as of Wednesday afternoon, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.