SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — In some of the most severe cases of COVID-19, doctors are finding it’s not the coronavirus making people critically ill.
It’s their own immune system, and a San Diego-based biotech company thinks it has an answer.
La Jolla-based INmune Bio announced Tuesday it has FDA approval to begin a Phase 2 clinical trial on its inflammation fighting drug, Quellor.
In many of the sickest COVID patients, doctors have noticed their blood is filled with high levels of immune proteins called cytokines. Cytokines act as messengers between cells and the virus can cause them to go haywire, setting off what’s known as a cytokine storm.
In a cytokine storm, the body’s immune system starts to attack its own cells and tissues rather than the virus. During the Spanish Flu of 1918, many of the deaths were caused by cytokine storms.
“You need to control the cytokine storm to keep patients from getting sick,” said INmune Bio’s CEO Dr. R.J. Tesi.
There are several different types of cytokines. A drug undergoing testing in a federal trial with remdesivir targets a cytokine called beta interferon.
The San Diego biotech’s drug Quellor suppresses a very specific cytokine called soluble tumor necrosis factor, which Dr. Tesi calls “the master cytokine” because of its role in triggering other immune proteins.
Dr. Tesi said this particular cytokine may contribute to another troubling issue with COVID-19: blood clotting.
“When they write the history of COVID-19, the clots are going to be the bad guy,” Dr. Tesi said. “These blood clots go off everywhere and they gum up the works. They make it so the lungs can't work. They make it so the kidneys can't work. They make it so the heart is screwed up. Make it so you have strokes.”
INmune Bio, which is publicly traded but has just six full-time employees, is hoping its drug can address both the blood clots and the inflammation.
The company plans to enroll 366 hospitalized COVID-19 patients for a Phase 2 trial to see if intervention with Quellor can keep people off ventilators and out of the ICU.