Erythropoietin (Epo): A Candidate for Supportive Treatment of Severe COVID-19 Cases

According to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Götingen, the doping agent, Epo could be effective against the severe progression of COVID-19.

It is currently under study that the drug, Epo that is actually a medication for anaemia, might also be able to ease severe cases of Covid-19 and protect patients from neurological side effects once the SARS Cov-2 virus attacks the brain. The initial case studies were already very positive. The researchers are now starting a randomised clinical trial to systematically investigate the effects of EPO treatment in COVID-19 patients.

There are a few incidents in the past, such as from an Iranian hospital and South America that indicate the protective role of Epo in the case of Covid-19. A scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hannelore Ehrenreich thinks it is possible that Epo could have contributed to the milder disease progression in the mentioned incidents.

Hannelore has been researching the effect of the endogenous growth factor for over 30 years and suspects a connection between the administration of Epo and the mild illness progression. “For example, we have observed that dialysis patients withstand Covid-19 remarkably well and it is precisely these patients who regularly receive erythropoietin”, says Ehrenreich.

The protective effects of Epo have been shown in animals as well as in numerous studies in humans with various brain disorders. It improves breathing when there is oxygen deficiency and also attenuates the frequently exaggerated immune response in Covid-19 patients with its anti-inflammatory effects.

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have only limited interest in financing further studies on approved active ingredients such as erythropoietin for which patent protection has expired. Scientists are therefore preparing a ‘proof-of-concept study’ to investigate the effect of Epo on Covid-19 in humans. In this clinical trial, severely ill Covid-19 patients will also receive Epo. The researchers will then investigate whether the growth factor can alleviate severe disease progression.

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