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Medications for autoimmune diseases protect against COVID-19
So-called cytokine inhibitors are medicines that are used against autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism, psoriasis or intestinal inflammation. A German research team has now shown that people who take such drugs show no signs of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Researchers at the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) found that taking anti-inflammatory drugs from the cytokine inhibitor class is linked to a protective function against COVID-19. The results of the research work were recently presented in the renowned journal "Nature".
Common systemic inflammation in COVID-19
Just recently, another study in the well-known journal "The Lancet" showed that SARS-CoV-2 can cause systemic vascular inflammation of the so-called endothelium (inner lining of the blood vessels). The researchers see this as a possible explanation of why a relatively large number of those affected develop cardiovascular problems and even fatal multi-organ failure.
Excessive immune reactions in COVID-19
Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism, psoriasis or intestinal inflammation lead to excessive immune reactions in the organs concerned. A FAU research team found that COVID-19 disease is associated with similar overreaction. The team also showed that drugs for such autoimmune diseases can also help against COVID-19.
According to the researchers, the excessive immune response that was observed in COVID-19 leads to inflammation of the alveoli. This results in a sensitive disruption of gas exchange in the lungs. In this context, cytokines play a crucial role. These messenger substances are produced by the immune cells and the lung cells.
What Autoimmune Diseases Have in Common with COVID-19
These messengers also play an important role in certain autoimmune diseases, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), interleukin-6 and interleukin-1. Such diseases are often treated with so-called cytokine inhibitors.
The FAU research team has now tested 1,000 test persons for antibodies against COVID-19. The participants are made up of people suffering from autoimmune diseases and taking cytokine inhibitors. There was also a control group without diseases.
No antibodies when taking cytokine inhibitors
Four percent of the test persons working in the medical field had antibodies. Two percent of the participants who do not work in the medical field also had antibodies against SARS-Cov-2. What was unusual, however, was that not a single person taking cytokine inhibitors had antibodies against the novel coronavirus.
"It seems that the cytokine inhibitors limit the infection with SARS-COV-2 viruses right from the start, so that no antibodies are formed," explains Professor Dr. Georg Schett from the research team.
Cytokine inhibitors provide protection against SARS-CoV-2
The researchers conclude that people with rheumatism, intestinal inflammation or psoriasis who take cytokine inhibitors should not be considered as a risk group for COVID-19. They seem to be protected against COVID-19 by the therapy of the immune disease.
The next step is to test whether cytokine inhibitors are also suitable for the treatment of COVID-19 diseases. The similar mechanisms that exist in certain autoimmune diseases and COVID-19 give hope that such therapies could work. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- Georg Schett, Michael Sticherling, Markus F. Neurath: COVID-19: risk for cytokine targeting in chronic inflammatory diseases? in: Nature, 2020, nature.com
- Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU): Anti-inflammatory drugs protect against COVID-19 (published: April 22, 2020), fau.de.
- Zsuzsanna Varga, Andreas J. Flammer, Peter Steiger, Martina Haberecker, Rea Andermatt, Annelies S. Zinkernagel, et al .: Endothelial cell infection and endotheliitis in COVID-19; in The Lancet (published April 20, 2020), thelancet.com