As of this morning – Tuesday May 12 – the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 223,060 with 32,065 deaths.
UK-based biotech ILC Therapeutics is working with the University of Oxford to investigate whether the use of evasins – molecules derived from ticks – could offer a new treatment option for patients with COVID-19 with significant lung damage.
The research indicates that evasins could prevent the progression of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (known as ARDS, and currently the leading cause of COVID-19 fatalities), by acting as a ‘fire extinguisher’ to put out the cytokine storms that attack the lungs, the firm noted.
Cytokine storms are caused by an overreaction of the body’s immune system, which over-produces dangerous chemical messengers called cytokines and chemokines that activate white blood cells like neutrophils and macrophages to attack the lungs in COVID-19 patients. If enough lung tissue is destroyed by these attacks, then the lungs cannot operate and patients die.
ILC says that early research indicates evasins could rescue the patient from the cytokine storm in the body once it is already in progress, by ‘absorbing’ chemokine messengers which cause lung inflammation, 'making it a late stage treatment option for patients and potentially resulting in a much higher chance of survival and recovery'.
The company has been working with Professor Shoumo Bhattacharya, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and BHF chair at the University of Oxford, since November 2019, originally examining evasins as a potential treatment for various inflammatory respiratory conditions before realising that it could be particularly effective on lung inflammatory responses caused by the innate immune system.
“We didn’t go looking for COVID-19, it came looking for us,” commented chief executive Dr Alan Walker. “We are somewhat ‘lucky’, I suppose, that our research was already exploring ways of controlling the innate immune inflammatory response, meaning that we haven’t had to deviate greatly from the work we were doing ahead of COVID-19.”
Professor Bhattacharya has developed so-called Triple Headed Evasins, which essentially consist of three different types of Evasins to maximise the absorption of different chemokines.
“Evasins are designed to evade people’s innate immune response, which acts as an inherent protection mechanism against parasitic attack from ticks and other parasites, allowing these invaders to drink their victim’s blood with impunity. Evasins are designed to turn off the very chemical messengers that play a big part in ARDS,” he said.
“We hope to use something that for millions of years has been used by parasites to attack people to save people instead. Given that Evasins function the same in all mammals, we have the potential to gain insight from animal model data very quickly, which would be very beneficial in seeing how effective this treatment option could be.”
The research is being undertaken at BioCity in Glasgow, Scotland, and at University of Oxford, with initial clinical work likely to be undertaken at the university. The company said it is “urgently seeking funds” to progress as quickly as possible to preclinical tests and eventual clinical trials.
WASH YOUR HANDS:
Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING:
Maintain at least two metres (six feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
STAY AT HOME:
Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home).