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Feinstein Institutes researchers find effective COVID-19 ‘cytokine storm’ treatment

MANHASSET, N.Y.–()–Some immune systems have responded to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections by going into overdrive, resulting in an overzealous inflammatory response referred to as a cytokine storm. In a retrospective study of nearly 6,000 patients, researchers from The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Northwell COVID-19 Research Consortium have identified the most effective immunomodulatory therapies to treat patients with evidence of this cytokine storm and improve patient survival.

A multidisciplinary team of investigators, led by Negin Hajizadeh, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician, and associate professor at the Feinstein Institutes, analyzed the electronic health records of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across 12 of Northwell Health hospitals – New York State’s largest health system – between March 1 and April 24, 2020. The results were published today in CHEST, by Sonali Narain, MD, assistant professor at the Feinstein Institutes, corresponding author, and team.

Patients were divided into one of six groups; no immunomodulatory treatment (standard of care), patients who received intravenous corticosteroids, anti-interleukin 6 antibody therapy (tocilizumab) or anti-interleukin-1 therapy (anakinra) alone or in combination with corticosteroids.

The results show that the most effective treatment was the combination of corticosteroids – such as dexamethasone – with tocilizumab when compared to standard of care. Additionally, there was an improvement if corticosteroids were used alone, or in combination with tocilizumab or anakinra when compared with standard of care.

“Cytokine storms are a hallmark for many COVID-19 patients and are associated with the most severe form of this illness,” said Dr. Hajizadeh, associate professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and co-senior author on the paper. “Our findings suggest that with the intervention of certain drugs like corticosteroids, we can battle the cytokine storm and improve outcomes to the point that we believe we have found a new standard of care for seriously ill patients.”

Overall, there were twice as many males as females in the cohorts, and more than 65 percent had never smoked. Contradictory to previous reports, the Black population was associated with better survival compared to white patients. Additionally, the most common comorbidities across the groups of patients that experienced a cytokine storm include:

  • Hypertension (44-59 percent);
  • Diabetes (32-46 percent);
  • Cardiovascular disease (5-14 percent);
  • Chronic kidney disease (5-12 percent);
  • Cancer (5-11 percent);
  • Asthma (3-12 percent).

“Dr. Hajizadeh’s major COVID-19 research study gives timely and crucial new knowledge about using currently available anti-inflammatory drugs,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes. “This information will help others save lives.”

The researchers hope that the findings are useful for frontline providers to care for severely ill COVID-19 patients and to aid in the future design of large randomized controlled clinical trials, the gold standard of medical research.

About the Feinstein Institutes

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York State. Home to 50 research labs, 3,000 clinical research studies and 5,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes raises the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health innovations and outcomes, and molecular medicine. We make breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and are the global scientific leader in bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we produce knowledge to cure disease, visit http://feinstein.northwell.edu and follow us on LinkedIn.

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