UCI Health to test drug for critically ill COVID-19 patients

Aviptadil could save people suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome

May 13, 2020
UCI Health pulmonologist Dr. Richard Lee, who is conducting a clinical trial for a drug that shows promise in treating COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress.

“If successful, we hope that treatments such as Aviptadil may change the chances of survival for these patients,” says UCI Health pulmonologist Dr. Richard A. Lee, who is leading the clinical trial. Photo by Carlos Puma for UCI Health.

Orange, Calif. — UCI Health is initiating a clinical study of a drug to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients who face a high mortality rate because of acute inflammation that fills their lungs with fluid, a grave condition that even mechanical ventilation cannot improve.

Aviptadil, which has a 20-year history of use in human clinical trials for lung ailments, will be employed in a phase 2b/3 clinical study of COVID-19 patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, a primary cause of coronavirus-induced death, said UCI Health pulmonologist Dr. Richard A. Lee, interim chief of UCI School of Medicine's Division of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine.

“We’re very pleased to be one of the first centers launching this clinical study,” said Lee, principal investigator for the Aviptadil clinical trial. “This study will focus on patients for whom mortality is alarmingly high. If successful, we hope that treatments such as Aviptadil may change the chances of survival for these patients.”

Up to 30 patients at UCI Medical Center will be included in the trial. Eligible participants will be hospitalized patients who have ARDS due to COVID-19 and require intubation and mechanical ventilation.

The leading role of UCI Health in advancing this clinical research during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates its unique and critical position in Orange County and beyond.

Part of the drug portfolio of Swiss company Relief Therapeutics Holding, Aviptadil has been used in trials for sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that attacks the lungs and lymph glands, as well as for pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension.

A synthetic form of human vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, Aviptadil targets inflammatory molecules in the lungs called cytokines that COVID-19 whips into a storm, drenching the air sacs of the lungs in water and rendering them unable to deliver oxygen.

The drug could serve as one of the last lines of defense in cases where significant COVID-19 complications appear, often in the elderly and those suffering from other medical conditions, Lee said.

NeuroRx Inc., Relief Therapeutics’ U.S. partner, with operations in Radnor, Pa., is leading the Aviptadil clinical trial. In a previous trial of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide for ARDS in eight patients with sepsis, seven people on mechanical ventilation showed substantial improvement and six ultimately left the hospital, said Dr. Jonathan Javitt, CEO of NeuroRx.

“If the early results can be replicated in ARDS caused by COVID-19, this treatment could have a major impact both on COVID-19 survival and on the availability of ventilators for those in desperate need,” he said.

UCI is among three sites to launch the Aviptadil clinical trial — the others being the University of Miami and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia — and the only one west of the Mississippi River.

The trial will eventually expand to include about 120 patients in all, with completion expected later this year.

The Aviptadil clinical trial is among several COVID-19-related studies underway at UCI Health. On April 29, UCI Health physicians announced that trial results showed the antiviral drug remdesivir was significantly slowing the progression of COVID-19. UCI Health began a clinical study of remdesivir in mid-March. A second phase of the remdesivir trial is pending.

For more information about this and other UCI Health clinical trials, please visit the UCI Center for Clinical Research, a premier clinical research organization that provides life-saving clinical trials by strengthening and accelerating the pathway of discovery from bench to bedside.

About UCI Health: UCI Health comprises the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center, in Orange, California. The 417-bed acute care hospital provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, and behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center and regional burn center. It is the primary teaching hospital for the UCI School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow UCI Health on Facebook and Twitter.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu. 

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