Israel among first to test drug to help severe corona cases

The rheumatoid arthritis medication Kevzara may help severe cases of the disease.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel is one of the first countries in the world outside the United States to start clinical trials on a drug to see if it can help patients critically ill with coronavirus, Israel Hayom reported Tuesday.

Kevzara, made by the Sanofi and Regeneron pharmaceutical companies, is generally used to treat adults with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. A preliminary study has shown that it also may be able to help the lungs of COVID-19 victims, with three quarters of the 21 patients needing less oxygen within days of receiving a similar medication.

This will be the first drug tested in Israel in its fight against the pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of 60 in the country and infected over 9,000. A 64-year-old woman in moderate condition in Sheba Hospital was the first to receive a dose on Monday.

Some 40 Israeli patients in all will be part of the 60-day study, out of the 300 outside of the United States, which began limited trials with some 400 patients in 16 states late last month. One group will receive a high dosage of Kevzara through an IV, a second group will receive a low dosage, and the third group will receive a placebo.

“The COVID-19 disease consists of two stages,” explained Dr. Itzik Levi, director of the AIDS department in Sheba.

“In the first stage, as a result of the disease’s penetration into the body, there’s initial damage like a cough and [other] symptoms. In the second stage, the immune system reacts strongly to the disease, releasing … proteins that cause inflammation. This is a violent response that causes injury to the lungs, heart and other systems.”

The hope is that Kevzara will reduce the amount of those proteins, as it is the body’s overactive reaction that leads to the acute respiratory distress which is the main danger to patients’ lives.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East in the study. Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Russia and Canada are the other countries testing the drug outside the United States.

Israel was also one of the first countries in the world to receive a drug from Japan to test on mildly ill coronavirus patients. Treatment with the experimental flu drug Avigan (favipiravir) of some 80 patients in the first stages of the disease is planned in clinical trials in four hospitals around the country.