NY’s efforts to find COVID-19 treatments

The entrance the Lenox Hill Northwell urgent care facility in Greenwich Village on May 1.
The entrance the Lenox Hill Northwell urgent care facility in Greenwich Village on May 1.
rblfmr/Shutterstock
The entrance the Lenox Hill Northwell urgent care facility in Greenwich Village on May 1.

NY’s efforts to find COVID-19 treatments

From immunotherapies to vaccines, the state’s medical community is looking at all of its options to combat the infectious disease.
May 7, 2020

While New York’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc, the state’s medical community is hard at work looking for possible treatments and cures to combat the virus.

Given these unprecedented circumstances, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been approving experimental treatments and clinical trials far sooner than it ordinarily would. Now, scientists and doctors across the country are working toward creating new antiviral treatments, immunotherapies and vaccines. And so far, they’ve seen some promising results from a few of the remedies they’ve been testing. 

New York’s medical community, which includes world-renowned hospitals, doctors and medical schools, is working particularly hard to find more effective treatments, since it’s at the epicenter of the U.S.’s coronavirus crisis. Here are the COVID-19 treatments that New York’s medical community is working on to fight off the deadly virus:

Vaccines

On Tuesday, pharmaceutical company Pfizer began its vaccine trials on humans at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The company is working with the biotech company BioNTech, which is located in Germany, to execute these trials. A series of vaccine trials were also completed in Germany last week, as a part of the study. The trials taking place in New York will recruit 90 people who have not contracted the disease to assess the vaccine’s safety, patients’ ability to withstand side effects and whether the vaccine can stimulate a patient’s immune system.

There are currently 100 different potential vaccines in the works across the globe, but this is one of seven vaccines that has begun conducting human trials. Pfizer is also working to ensure that, once it has a vaccine available, it will be able to quickly manufacture and distribute millions of vaccines. 

Many experts have said that it’s unlikely that a vaccine will be available in the near future, predicting that it could take over a year, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s possible to have a vaccine by January. However, medical experts still probably wouldn’t be able to tell if a vaccine is able to inoculate its recipients from the virus before April or May of next year at the soonest.

Blood thinners

On Wednesday, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City revealed that it has been giving some of its COVID-19 patients anticoagulants, often referred to as blood thinners, which helped improve their conditions. Now, the hospital has begun experimenting with a variety of anticoagulants to see which is best able to help its sickest patients.

The hospital decided to try giving its patients blood thinners after realizing that blood clots were a consistent issue among coronavirus patients. Mount Sinai hasn’t yet come to any major conclusions about using blood thinners as a treatment, but the hospital found that 29% of its patients given anticoagulants while on ventilators died, while 63% of patients on ventilators who did not receive the thinners while on ventilators died.

Heartburn medication

Last week, it was reported that New York’s Northwell Health hospitals have begun using famotidine, a medication typically used to treat heartburn, in clinical trials on COVID-19 patients. The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health got the idea to try this new treatment from Chinese doctors who found that patients taking the drug fared better than others.

Only 187 patients enrolled to be a part of the study so far, but Northwell is hoping to have 1,200 enrolled. Northwell’s clinical trials are still in their early stages and its medical research team is unsure of how effective the treatment will be. 

Convalescent plasma therapy

On Tuesday, it was reported that a Long Island man who had been on a ventilator for a month, stricken with the coronavirus, had officially recovered thanks to convalescent plasma treatments. 

Convalescent plasma is a serum derived from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19. It is injected into sick patients to help their immune system better fight off the disease. The technique has been used since the 1890s and has helped curtail outbreaks of the measles, mumps and influenza. Most recently, plasma treatments were used to contain the H1N influenza outbreak in 2013.

Now, city and state officials are calling upon New Yorkers who have already recovered from the coronavirus to donate their blood so hospitals can continue to provide the sickest patients with plasma. The state is also encouraging individuals to take antibody tests to determine if they had the virus but did not take a COVID-19 test, to see if they might be a candidate for plasma donations.

Doctors at New York City’s Rockefeller University are also working on creating a new version of the traditional plasma treatment that involves selecting the strongest antibodies from blood samples and then cloning them to create a more potent serum. They’re hoping to make the new treatment available by the end of the summer.

Remdesivir

Last week, the FDA approved remdesivir, an antiviral medication used to treat Hepatitis and other respiratory infections, as a treatment for extremely sick coronavirus patients after federal trials showed the drug helped some patients recover faster than others. Severalhospitals in the state were a part of the federal trial that began in early April and was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

“People are doing a lot better,” Dr. Barry Zingman, clinical director of infectious diseases at Montefiore Hospital who led the hospital’s remdesivir study, told NY1 in mid-April. “The mortality rate in our study among patients who have come into this study have come down dramatically over the course of the last month. That has to do with both people coming in earlier, there’s heightened awareness, whether or not they might have COVID-19, as well our supportive therapies for people have gotten so much better. I think that many people are getting the remdesivir and that may be helping as well.”

Hydroxychloroquine

On Thursday, several New York City hospitals announced that they would no longer be using Hydroxychloroquine, a medication typically used to treat malaria, after it proved to be ineffective treating patients with COVID-19. 

The medication first made it into the news on March 20, after President Donald Trump listed it as a possible treatment for COVID-19. However, Fauci was quick to point out that there was only “anecdotal evidence” suggesting that the drug could be a potential treatment for the virus.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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