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The search for a vaccine against COVID-19 will take months, perhaps even years. Until that time, a drug that can combat the worst symptoms of the virus would be worth its weight in gold. The anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine, pushed by Donald Trump, is unlikely to deliver that. But the German Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) might have found something that does work.

A research team from the FAU has demonstrated in a study that drugs that are designed to treat autoimmune diseases are capable of inhibiting COVID-19 infections even before the virus has spread into the body.

The FAU is an authority when it comes to the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Reviews Immunology, uses what are known as cytokine blockers or cytokine inhibitors. These are normally used for the treatment of patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism, gastrointestinal inflammation, and psoriasis.

Autoimmune diseases

A study of 1000 test subjects revealed that those test subjects who had taken the cytokine blockers because of their autoimmune conditions were better protected against COVID-19. More so than the other test subjects who were part of a group of volunteer nurses and doctors who hadn’t taken that medicine.

“It seems that the cytokine inhibitors limit the infection with SARS-COV-2 viruses from the outset. This prevents the production of any antibodies,” says Professor Georg Schett from the FAU.

COVID-19 is known to trigger a strong immune response that leads to inflammation of the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. This, in turn, disrupts the gas exchange in the lungs. This inflammatory reaction is caused by cytokine, a substance that serves as a messenger in the body. Several of these messenger substances play an important role in diseases such as rheumatism, gastrointestinal inflammation, and psoriasis and can, therefore, be counteracted with cytokine inhibitors.