February 08, 2023
In an international, multicenter, pivotal Phase 3 trial, a single under-the-skin injection of a biological drug given to patients within seven days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms cut the likelihood they needed to be hospitalized in half. Patients treated within three days of showing symptoms fared even better. Among unvaccinated patients who were treated soon after symptom onset, hospitalization likelihood plummeted markedly.
The drug, pegylated lambda-interferon, or PEG-lambda, proved effective against all COVID-19 viral variants tested, including omicron. Side effects were no greater than those reported by placebo recipients.
A report on the success of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of nearly 2,000 newly infected COVID-19 patients was published online Feb. 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
PEG-lambda is a synthetic version of lambda-interferon, a naturally occurring protein that infected cells secrete as a first line of defense against viral infection.
“This drug would have saved millions of lives if we’d had it at the beginning of the pandemic, and it could still save millions of other lives,” said Jeffrey Glenn, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology and director of ViRx@Stanford, a Stanford Medicine program devoted to discovering and developing novel antiviral agents to prepare for pandemics.
“There’s been a lot of talk to the effect that COVID’s over,” Glenn said. “I don’t think the virus got that memo. Meanwhile, lots of people are still unvaccinated, and this drug showed profound benefits for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike.”