AstraZeneca pilots diabetes drug as potential COVID-19 treatment

(Reuters) - Britain’s AstraZeneca is testing a diabetes drug as a potential treatment for COVID-19 patients who also had existing heart and kidney problems, its second trial of an approved therapy to help treat the disease caused by the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Dubbed "DARE-19", AstraZeneca said here on Thursday that the study will assess if Farxiga can reduce the risk of death from serious complications and organ failure in such patients.

Drugmakers are rushing to advance potential treatments for the fast-spreading virus outbreak that has infected more than 2.62 million people globally and so far killed 183,761 with the respiratory illness, according to a Reuters tally.

“AstraZeneca is committed to finding new solutions to fight COVID-19 by investigating the application of our new and existing medicines,” Mene Pangalos, Executive VP of biopharmaceuticals at the company, said.

While existing medications being trialled include cancer drugs and immunotherapies, some research shows that patients with existing heart conditions are at a high risk of developing COVID-19 complications, including heart failure.

Cambridge-based AstraZeneca has also said it will trial its cancer drug Calquence in COVID-19 patients and has partnered with rival GlaxoSmithKline and Cambridge University to set up a COVID-19 testing laboratory.

AstraZeneca’s DARE-19 trial, in partnership with the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, will enrol about 900 patients in the United States and European countries that are experiencing high rates of the coronavirus, the drugmaker said.

The goal of the study is to assess if Farxiga can cut the risk of disease progression, clinical complications and death in the patients, AstraZeneca said, without providing details on when it expects to publish data for regulatory submission.

Farxiga, approved as a treatment for type-2 diabetes, is part of the SGLT2-inhibitor class of antidiabetic medication that cause the kidneys to expel blood sugar through urine and has shown promise in various heart and kidney condition trials.

Rival SGLT2 inhibitors include Johnson & Johnson’s Invokana and Eli Lilly and Co and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Jardiance.

Diabetes, heart disease and long-term lung problems are the most common underlying conditions among Americans hospitalized with COVID-19, a report here last month said.

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Sriraj Kalluvila and Alexander Smith