Research Roundup: COVID-19 steroid treatment studies, long-lasting antibodies, and NIH support for diagnostics
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Three new studies, recently published in the journal JAMA, support the use of steroids to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients, generating mounting evidence that these common drugs are the most effective treatment for the virus found to date. The use of steroids to treat COVID-19 had been under debate over the last few months, as some worried that they could prevent the body from fighting off the virus effectively as a side effect of tamping down the immune system’s potentially deadly overreaction to infection. Dexamethasone, a steroid that was found to reduce deaths among the most serious COVID-19 cases, has been in use in some areas since a major June UK study demonstrated its efficacy. The new research, published jointly by three different global teams, further backs the use of dexamethasone as well as another steroid, hydrocortisone. Positive results on steroid use are especially significant because of their wide availability and inexpensive prices, making them an accessible treatment option.
Study results released last week, gathered from tests on more than 30,000 people in Iceland analyzing immune response to COVID-19, found evidence of a lasting antibody presence post-infection. Previous smaller studies have suggested COVID-19 antibodies might disappear quickly after infection, making the unknowns of lasting immunity and future infection a question of interest for researchers. The new study, conducted by Amgen-subsidiary deCODE Genetics, used nasal swabs and blood samples from 30,576 individuals to examine infection levels and immune response. Results showed that after the first wave of antibodies, which may fade after a month or two as other studies have reported, a longer-lasting second wave of antibodies forms, which was shown to remain stable for four months. While these findings are not necessarily applicable to all countries’ populations, and several unknowns remain, the results provide an optimistic sign for vaccine makers hoping to confer long-lasting COVID-19 immunity.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is backing nine additional COVID-19 test manufacturers as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative (RADx), adding US$129.3 million in funding to scale up production of point-of-care screening tests and high-throughput laboratory assays. Many of the test candidates are using innovations that have moved from labs to point of care in five to six months—a process that usually takes years—according to NIH National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Director Bruce Tromberg. NIBAB helps lead RADx, which hopes to deliver products and services to the public this fall.