How This Cancer Treatment Drug Is Helping Severe COVID-19 Patients

Used in the treatment of certain types of cancers, imatinib is an oral medication able to hinder the spread of cancer by blocking proteins that promote cancer cell replication, according to MedlinePlus. Also able to reduce inflammation, scientists have now turned their attention to the potential use of the drug in treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19, as reported by Healthline.

In a yet to be peer reviewed study presented at the 2022 American Thoracic Society (ATS) International Conference, researchers collected data from 385 severe COVID patients who they monitored over the course of 90 days (via Healthline). As outlined in the research, the study team aimed to determine the efficacy of imatinib in reducing numbers of COVID-related deaths, time spent on a ventilator, and length of patient ICU stays. By the last day of the follow-up period, 31 control group patients had died compared to 18 deaths among patients who had been treated with imatinib. In addition to reducing the number of deaths, imatinib treatment was also shown to decrease the need for ventilator support among patients.

Why health experts are optimistic

According to the research, those in the imatinib group went a median of 84 days without a ventilator, while the control group went without ventilation for a median of 64 days. Once invasive ventilation began, those treated with imatinib required ventilator usage for anywhere between three and 15 days. Those treated with a placebo required a ventilator for a period ranging from six to 22 days. Moreover, the use of imatinib also showed to shorten patient stays in the ICU by an average of four days compared to the placebo group.

Highlighting the impact that imatinib treatment could have for severe COVID patients, co-first study author Erik Duijvelaar announced publicly in a statement, "In this ongoing pandemic, this could result in lower mortality rates and shorter intensive care admissions" (via Healthline).

While the research is still in its early stages, some health experts are encouraged by the idea of utilizing a drug for COVID treatment that the medical community is already familiar with (via Healthline). Although previous studies have shown imatinib usage to potentially impact liver function (per British Medical Journal Case Reports), assistant clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University Dr. Thomas Lew is confident in the medical community's ability to carefully monitor its usage in patients. Dr. Lew states via Healthline, "We know what the side effects are, we know... tolerability levels, how much to use and... how much can be used before it becomes toxic."