Cytokine therapy trials start today, to help moderate COVID-19 positives

Hospital to start with 6 patients; procedure lasts just five minutes, triggers active immunity

Published: 18th May 2020 03:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2020 03:02 AM   |  A+A-

A doctor checks the temperature of a Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike employee in Bengaluru, on Sunday | Nagaraja Gadekal

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The phase-1 clinical trials of cytokine therapy is set to begin from Monday at HCG Hospital with six healthy volunteers stepping forward to participate in the trials. This therapy is aimed at treating patients with mild or moderate symptomatic Covid-19 infection. This injectible therapy is essentially a mix of chemical messengers that helps the body switch from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ immunity to counter the viral onslaught. In other words, it triggers the immunity mechanism after boosting its performance.

It enhances the release of interferons -- a group of signalling proteins made by human host cells in response to the virus — which play a crucial role in early phases of the infection. This therapy is understood to be useful in such phases. HCG Hospital recently got an approval from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to conduct the trials. It had earlier got the approval from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to start clinical trials in plasma therapy.

Dr Vishal Rao, Principal Investigator at HCG Hospital, said the procedure takes just five minutes with an intra-muscular injection of cytokine mixture. “While in the case of plasma therapy, the donor is a recovered patient and the therapy is done for critically ill patients, in cytokine therapy, it is for patients with mild or moderate symptoms to reactivate their systems so that their condition does not get worse and they are cured faster.”  He said, “After the DCGI approval, there were some changes that needed to be done, which we did.

Then, it had to get an approval from the Ethics Committee, which took some time. On Friday, the approval was given. Now, we are all set to start trials from Monday. The pre-screening of volunteers has been done and we will start the trial on one of them and slowly move to others.” The theory behind the cytokine therapy is based on the thymus, a small gland behind the breastbone which plays a crucial role in the immune system. The thymus decays during puberty, but its effects in strengthening T-lymphocytes (immune cells) to fight infections lasts a lifetime.  In children, the active thymus helps bridge the gap between innate (passive) and adaptive (active) immunity, whereas the same fails in the adults. Cytokine therapy helps bridge this gap.

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