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UAB clinical trials looking to reduce COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalizations

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham are encouraging Alabamians to participate in various clinical trials to treat symptoms of the novel coronavirus and hopefully reduce needed hospitalizations.

The clinical trials are open to people experiencing a range of symptoms, people who have recovered from their infection of COVID-19 or who have not been infected and want to participate in the vaccine trials.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Sonya Heath, a professor of medicine in UAB’s division of infectious diseases, said that by participating in these immune-based therapy clinical trials, Alabamians would be helping to find better ways of fighting side effects of the virus.

“Ultimately (these clinical trials are) to reduce the severity of illness, decrease the hospitalizations and decrease the long-term complications of COVID, which we know exist in a subset of patients, and definitely to decrease the number of people dying from COVID,” Heath said.

One of the trials will focus on convalescent plasma, or plasma that has been taken from someone who has recovered from the virus and using the built-up antibodies in that plasma to treat an infected person.

For the convalescent plasma trial, Heath said they are looking to test whether a high concentration of antibodies in the plasma can decrease the severity of symptoms in patients who are newly infected with COVID-19.

Heath said they would like to test the plasma on those showing symptoms within the first eight days of infection.

“When we’re trying to target the virus, the earlier we do that the better,” Heath said.

Since the trials are being conducted in an outpatient setting, they are designed to limit the number of times the patient has to physically go to UAB and all the trials involve only one transfusion.

Heath hopes that by making it an outpatient procedure, it will attract participants from all over the state who are infected.

The school is also conducting a clinical trial on an antibody cocktail produced by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, which have already shown promising results of alleviating symptoms and reducing hospital visits.

“If we can stop the virus in its tracts, say the first three or four days, then we can potentially block the consequences,” said Dr. Turner Overton, a professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Infection Diseases.

Overton encourages those who do test positive for COVID-19 to consult with their health care providers as soon as they can and consider participating in one of their clinical trials as part of their recovery process.

“If you get this disease, pursue help, because we are gaining knowledge and we have expertise here at UAB but if people sit at home and wait until they’re really sick and that second week of illness, then the complications are much higher,” Overton said.

Heath also explained that very few negative side effects have been seen in the use of the convalescent plasma treatments or the antibody cocktail trials.

“We wouldn’t bring these trials to UAB if we did not believe in them,” Heath said.

Those who are interested in participating in any of the trials can call (205) 934-6777 to get more information.

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