Top scientists join forces to study main theory behind long COVID

A patient suffering from long COVID is examined in the post-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clinic at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2022. Picture taken February 21, 2022. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/ File Photo

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

CHICAGO, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Top scientists from leading academic centers are banding together to answer a key question about the root cause of long COVID – whether fragments of the coronavirus persist in the tissues of some individuals.

The effort, known as the Long Covid Research Initiative, aims to streamline research and move quickly to clinical trials of potential treatments. By sharing various skills and resources, the group hopes to uncover the scientific underpinnings of the disease and use them to design evidence-based trials.

Long COVID is a complex, poorly understood and debilitating disease that can last for months after an initial COVID infection, leaving many of its patients unable to work. It affects nearly one in five American adults who have had COVID, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

The initiative is backed by an initial $15 million from Balvi, a scientific investment fund formed by Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain platform.

It includes scientists from Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California San Francisco, Yale University and the J. Craig Venter Institute.

“The first thing you need to understand in the long COVID is whether patients still have the virus in them or not,” said Dr. Amy Proal of the nonprofit PolyBio Research Foundation, a chronic disease expert. associated with infections who will serve as the Scientific Director responsible for the initiative.

Currently, there is no proven treatment for long COVID, which affects more than 150 million people worldwide.

A growing body of evidence points to the presence of viruses in tissues that continue to elicit an immune system response, she said.

This may help explain the cascade of some 200 symptoms associated with long COVID, including pain, fever, headache, cognitive impairment, shortness of breath and exhaustion after minimal activity.

Researchers will use advanced imaging and genetic sequencing techniques to look for evidence of the virus’s presence in tissues and analyze its effects on the immune system.

If viral persistence is proven to cause long COVID, the research initiative aims to test antiviral treatments, such as Pfizer Inc’s Paxlovid (PFE.N) as well as other types of drugs that modulate the system. immune.

“Antivirals are our primary clinical trial target,” Proal said, adding that the group would like to study Paxlovid. She could not say if Pfizer was working with the group.

Some case studies have shown that Paxlovid improved symptoms in a handful of long-term COVID patients. But large, well-designed trials are needed to prove that the treatments help and to identify the patients most likely to benefit from them. Read more

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company was “actively exploring” potential collaborative studies, but would not elaborate.

The initiative was organized by a group of longtime COVID patients with backgrounds in finance, startups and technology, who are leading fundraising efforts, such as the initial $15 million grant, as well as d Others yet to be disclosed, said Henry Scott-Green, one of the organizers.

The goal is to accelerate research by cutting institutional silos and removing funding bottlenecks.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen Editing by Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Sharon D. Cole