UTHSC physicians leading potential ‘game changer’ clinical trial for COVID-19 treatment in Memphis

Updated: Sep. 25, 2020 at 4:02 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - WMC Action News 5 is learning more about a potential groundbreaking treatment for COVID-19 now being offered as part of a clinical trial in Memphis.

UTHSC is leading the program in partnership with Regional One. It’s a two-pronged study. Researchers are looking to help those who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and are not sick enough to be in the hospital.

They’re also seeing if the treatment would work on their family members or other close contacts to prevent them from getting ill.

“I do think this is potentially a game changer,” said Dr. John Jefferies, professor and chief of Cardiology at UTHSC. “Clinical trials in the current era are the only way until therapies are FDA approved that you can receive these treatments. And this is an opportunity for them to be on the cutting edge and receive a therapy that hopefully makes a difference for them and their families.”

Jefferies is working with UTHSC colleague Dr. Amber Thacker to head up a phase two and three clinical trial of Regeneron’s anti-viral medication REGN-COV2.

“It would be amazing to have a drug that would prevent people from becoming infected in the first place,” said Dr. Amber Thacker, assistant professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at UTHSC.

While much talk has been devoted to vaccines, both physicians said therapies like this, provided they work, will be instrumental in fighting the virus. They could also stave off potential lifelong side effects for those that do acquire it.

“You may be someone who is relatively asymptomatic. But does that not mean you’re not doing damage to your organs that could have chronic effects? No. It does not mean that,” said Jefferies.

If you’ve ever been sick with the flu, you know taking Tamiflu can shorten the duration of your illness and make your symptoms less severe. It’s the same idea with this medication.

“If we have a drug that is able to block it from entering, then people who are already sick might get better faster. Because right now, we have people who are sick for weeks and weeks,” said Thacker.

The experimental medication aims to prevent the infection from getting in your cells and continuing to replicate inside your body.

Those with a recent positive test and their close contacts can qualify for a one-hour infusion of the drug in an outpatient setting at Regional One. They will be monitored before release and in the days and weeks after taking the treatment to gauge its effectiveness.

“If we can mitigate the effects of this, and change the trajectory of the virus and the impact it has, I think that’s a huge opportunity. And we feel fortunate to have access to this therapy,” said Jefferies.

If it works, the doctors said it could be the difference between life and death for many, especially in families who may share chronic health issues and conditions that put them at risk for worse outcomes.

“I take care of patients in a COVID unit. And I’ve done that since March. And I’ve admitted entire families. We’ve had four or five people from the same family just a week ago,” said Thacker.

You must be 18 years old to participate.

You can find a link to the study and qualifying information here.

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