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Friday, May 08, 2020 - Roper St. Francis Healthcare receives OK to trial cancer drug with COVID-19 patients

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Roper St. Francis Healthcare soon will have the opportunity to be treated with a drug typically used to fight cancer.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare was approved Thursday to begin treating COVID-19 patients with the drug selinexor, making it the only site in South Carolina, one of only 19 sites nationwide and 42 sites internationally at this time that are participating in the study.

“We have established that we have a cutting-edge team of specialists who are providing excellent care for our COVID-19 patients, we are actively involved in clinical research, and we can move efficiently to activate a trial and enroll patients within a few days,” said Dr. George Geils Jr., a hematologist/oncologist at RSFH  and principal investigator for the trial.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug to treat multiple myeloma, which is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell.

“The drug happens to work in a way that appears ideal for the treatment of COVID-19 in that it blocks the export of proteins from a cell’s nucleus to the cytoplasm, which may help these patients in two important ways,” Geils said.

First, Geils said, it blocks the assembly of new viral particles in the cell so there is less viral shedding. This helps to reduce the number of new cells in the body infected by the virus, which may hasten recovery. It importantly also blocks the release of several inflammatory proteins, which are thought to cause much of the organ damage to patients with COVID-19, he said.

The drug will be used with patients who have a severe or life-threatening case of the disease, so the majority of patients requiring hospitalization would qualify, he said.

Geils said patients who agree to the trial may receive a placebo or the active drug, but the study does not prevent recipients from being treated with other anti-inflammatory drugs or antiviral drugs that may help the disease.

“That’s a significant positive, still having all other options at our disposal to try to combat the virus” he said. “The drug is exceedingly safe, and it’s used in much higher doses for cancer. They’ve seen very few side effects, and the drug has little in the way of adverse interactions with other medications.”

Officials have reported dozens of drugs are being investigated for their efficacy in fighting COVID-19. RSFH also is participating in a national trial on transfusing COVID-19 patients with recovered COVID-19 patients’ plasma.

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