Clinical Trial Shows Promise For First Drug To Combat Long COVID Symptoms

Although President Joe Biden ended COVID's national emergency on April 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one out of five people who've had COVID is still suffering. People with long COVID generally experience fatigue so severe that it disrupts their everyday life. Long COVID can come with a wide range of respiratory, neurological, or digestive symptoms, but people with long COVID could also have joint or muscular pain. They may also feel their symptoms get worse after some degree of physical or mental effort.

A new drug developed by Axcella Therapeutics might offer some hope for people suffering from long COVID, according to a recent study in eClinical Medicine. This phase 2 double-blind placebo-controlled trial recruited 41 patients who'd had COVID more than three months prior and experienced long COVID fatigue. All the participants were tested on how far they could walk for six minutes, and researchers tested their skeletal muscle recovery using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The participants also reported their levels of physical and mental fatigue. For four weeks twice a day, 21 people took the drug AXA1125 while the other 20 participants took a placebo.

People reported less mental and physical fatigue

After four weeks, the participants took the 6-minute walk test again and had their skeletal muscle recovery retested. The AXA1125 group didn't show significant improvements in distance covered or skeletal muscle recovery compared to the placebo group. However, the group that took AXA1125 reported greater improvements in their levels of mental and physical fatigue compared to the control group.

"The reduction in patients' own reports of fatigue is really positive news, and we hope that further work will help us understand the underlying processes behind this improvement," principal investigator and University of Oxford Associate Professor Betty Raman said in a news release. "There is still some way to go in treating all patients with long COVID — our results focus specifically on fatigue, rather than the breathlessness and cardiovascular issues that other long COVID patients have reported."

Although the researchers didn't find improvements for their primary endpoint — skeletal muscle metabolism — a large phase 3 study will include more measures of physical, mental, and cognitive health.