In a clinical trial being planned for hospitals in Massachusetts and Colorado, patients with severe cases of COVID-19 would be given the blood thinner tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a protein prescribed for heart attack and stroke victims.
The redirection of the proven blood clot buster comes from data emerging from China and Italy where patients brought to acute respiratory distress by COVID-19 were shown to have a profound blood clotting disorder that contributed to their respiratory failure. tPA would help clear those clots, giving ventilators a greater chance of helping patients survive.
“If this were to work, which I hope it will, it could potentially be scaled up very quickly, because every hospital already has it in their pharmacy,” says Michael Yaffe, a David H. Koch Professor of Science at MIT. “We don’t have to make a new drug, and we don’t have to do the same kind of testing that you would have to do with a new agent. This is a drug that we already use. We’re just trying to repurpose it.”
Yaffe is the senior author of a paper that appears in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. He also is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and an intensive care physician at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School. Co-authors of the paper include Dr. Christopher Barrett a surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess and a visiting scientist at MIT; Hunter Moore, Ernest Moore, Peter Moore, and Robert McIntyre of the University of Colorado at Denver; Daniel Talmor of Beth Israel Deaconess; and Frederick Moore of the University of Florida.
The researchers will test tPA in patients under the FDA’s “compassionate use” program, which allows experimental drugs to be used in cases where there are no other treatment options. The drug will be administered intravenously or directly into the airways.
If the drug appears to help in an initial set of patients, its use could be expanded further, Yaffe says. BARDA ( the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) will fund the trial. Genentech is donating the drug for the initial trial.