An experimental drug may cure long Covid, medics believe after a 59-year-old man given the medicine saw his symptoms fade within hours.
Doctors at a hospital in Germany gave the drug — originally designed to fight heart failure — to treat the patient’s glaucoma.
The team thought the way the medication works could also help to combat the eye disease, which can eventually lead to blindness.
They then realised the drug, called BC 007, could also be of use in fighting off long Covid because it neutralises auto-anitbodies, which attack the body and are found in long-Covid patients.
The unidentified man’s lasting symptoms — fatigue, loss of taste and concentration problems — all improved rapidly.
Doctors in Bavaria who treated him said: ‘Even within a few hours an improvement became apparent.’
Scientists who made the discovery will now trial the drug to determine if its success at curing long-Covid symptoms can be repeated.
BC 007 – the drug that cured a man’s long-Covid symptoms – is administered through a single-dose infusion. A price for the treatment has not yet been determined, as it is in clinical trials. The drug was developed by Berlin Cures to neutralise auto-anitbodies in people with heart failure
LONG COVID: WHAT IS IT AND COULD IT BE FOUR DIFFERENT SYNDROMES?
Covid-19 is described as a short-term illness caused by infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Public health officials tend to say people will recover within two weeks or so.
However it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case for everyone, and that the two-week period is only the ‘acute illness’ phase.
The North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus, found that out of a total of 110 patients given a three-month check up, most (74 per cent) had at least one persistent symptom after twelve weeks. The most common were:
- Excessive fatigue: 39%
- Breathlessness: 39%
- Insomnia: 24%
- Muscle pain: 23%
- Chest pain: 13%
- Cough: 12%
- Loss of smell: 12%
- Headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea: Each less than 10%
Other long term symptoms that have been reported by Covid-19 survivors, both suspected and confirmed, anecdotally, include hearing problems, ‘brain fog’, memory loss, lack of concentration, mental health problems and hair loss.
The impact of Long Covid on people who had mild illness have not been studied in depth yet.
Data from the King’s College London symptom tracking app shows that up to 500,000 people in the UK are currently suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
In October, scientists claimed Long Covid could actually be split into four different syndromes.
Academics at the National Institute for Health Research — headed up by Professor Chris Whitty — were asked to review the limited evidence on long Covid to help both patients and doctors understand the ‘phenomenon’.
Their findings warned that even children can suffer and it can’t be assumed that people who are at lower risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 are also at low risk of lasting side effects.
Doctors cautioned some mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in ‘long-haulers’, as they are known, could be down to lockdowns, as opposed to the virus itself.
The experts also claimed that the symptoms could be grouped into four different groups:
- Post intensive care syndrome (PICS)
- Post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS)
- Permanent organ damage (POD)
- Long term Covid syndrome (LTCS)
Little is known about long-Covid — an umbrella term encompassing symptoms that persist for more than a month.
Different studies have estimated that between 10 and 75 per cent of Covid patients suffer from the condition — including at least 2million Britons.
Scientists have found that sufferers have higher numbers of auto-antibodies, which are proteins produced by the immune system that attack organs.
These are different from antibodies, which are stored by the immune system to fight off diseases such as coronavirus.
German firm Berlin Cures developed BC 007 to clear up auto-antibodies in patients with heart failure.
The drug is currently in the second phase of clinical trials and has yet to be brought to market, so how much it will cost remains a mystery.
It works by sticking to the auto-antibodies and destroying them, preventing them from attacking organs in the body, according to Berlin Cures.
The doctors said this process would make it possible to render the auto-antibodies harmless and could possibly improve blood circulation.
For this reason, Dr Bettina Hohberger, from the Erlangen Eye Clinic, planned to use BC 007 on her glaucoma patients, who also have high levels of the auto-antibodies, which reduce blood circulation in the eye.
Glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged by a fluid build-up in the front part of the eye.
The condition — which is most common in people in their 70s and 80s — can lead to blindness if not treated early.
Dr Hohberger said: ‘We already know one of these autoantibodies from glaucoma and know it has a bad effect on the blood circulation in the eye.’
Previous studies had already identified long-Covid sufferers have auto-antibodies in their system.
Dr Hohberger gave BC 007 to a 59-year-old man, who was suffering with long-term glaucoma and long-Covid symptoms, through a single dose infusion.
He stayed at the Erlangen University Hospital for three days.
The patient’s sense of taste and difficulty concentrating ‘disappeared’, his auto-antibody levels dropped and the blood flow to his eyes ‘improved significantly’, the doctors said.
The experts said they will now use the drug in wider trials to determine its effectiveness.
Dr Christian Mardin, who is in charge of the eye clinic, revealed they can’t treat more people with the drug ‘because it has not yet passed all approval studies’.
Blood flow problems are thought to be at the root of the long-Covid conundrum, with researchers at the the Max Planck Center for Physics and Medicine in Germany identifying changes to the shape of blood cells in people who have the condition.
They released findings last week that the virus changes the size and stiffness of red and white blood cells, which make it harder to get oxygen and nutrients around the body.
They believe the disruption to oxygen flow is the root of the common symptoms which plague long Covid patients – breathing issues, tiredness and headaches.
A study by researchers at Imperial College London estimated that over 2million adults in England may have had long-Covid.