BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A local professor will begin trials testing a drug originally meant for treating stroke and heart attack patients on those with coronavirus.
Professor Michael Yaffe of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and MIT is set to begin administering a protein called tissue plasminogen activator (or tPA), used to break up blood clots to a small group of critically-ill COVID-19 patients now on ventilators in Boston.
MIT said on their website that the approach is based on data coming out of China and Italy showing that clotting was a major factor in the death tolls there.
"Importantly, we think that these increased instances of blood clotting in the circulation of the lungs and in the lungs themselves is what's leading to the deaths of people who aren't responding to maximal treatment on the ventilators," Yaffe said. "We think that giving this drug, which is already used widely for the treatment of strokes and heart attacks, may be very beneficial in this situation."
Yaffe is the senior author of a paper describing the tPA approach, and co-authored it with medical professionals from Beth Israel Deaconess, the University of Colorado, and the University of Florida.
His hope is that the drug can be repurposed to help get COVID-19 patients off ventilators and on the road back to good health—freeing up the ventilators, which are in already short supply, for patients who desperately need them.
"It may help us get patients off the ventilator sooner, and possibly even prevent patients from needing to go on the ventilator who would otherwise require them," he said.
Those researching the effectiveness of tPA on COVID-19 patients will test it on patients under the FDA's "compassionate use" program, which MIT said allows the use of experimental drugs when other treatment options aren't available or aren't working.
Researchers plan to give the drug to patients through IV or "instill it directly into the airways," according to MIT.
Along with Beth Israel Deaconess, tPA will be tested on patients out west at the University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus and Denver Health.
If they see improvements among the patients, trials could expand further.
"We should know relatively quickly whether this approach works," Yaffe said. "Genentech, the maker of the drug, has already promised to expand its utility if we see benefit in this first set of patients."
WBZ NewsRadio's Mike Macklin reports