Guide to COVID-19 trials for patients

The world is focused on getting back to some semblance of normal. The promise of clinical trials to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and has given the public an appetite to learn more about the clinical trials process. There is a lot of information out there, and it can be difficult to cull through it all. Below is a brief guide to COVID-19 trials for patients.

COVID-19 treatment trials

Researchers around the world are running thousands of clinical trials to test treatment and prevention measures for COVID-19. Approaches to investigational COVID-19 therapies fall into a few camps: antiviral treatments and immune modulator treatments. The Pharmaceutical Journal is keeping tabs on the latest and greatest news regarding COVID-19 therapy trials. Stay up-to-date on these developments here

Antiviral treatment studies are testing the ability of a study drug to prevent the virus from multiplying in the human body. If the growth of the virus can be stopped or even slowed, it might allow the body’s own immune system to clear the virus, and it might reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. Antiviral therapy studies include these drugs: Remdesivir, Chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir/ritonavir combination, Favipiravir, Umifenovir, Ribavirin, EIDD-2801, Niclosamide, Oseltamivir, and Ivermectin.

Immune modulator treatment studies are researching the safety and efficacy of medications to help the immune system fight the virus. Severe symptoms of COVID-19 are due to a “cytokine storm,” where an overactive immune response can lead to the breakdown of several of the body’s systems. A number of clinical trials are investigating whether immune modulators can stop the overactive immune response, allowing people to recover. If you’ve heard of trials advertising the use of antibody treatments to help prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms — these treatments are taking the immune modulator approach. These are a few therapies being tested in this category: Dexamethasone, Hydrocortisone, Convalescent plasma, Budesonide (inhaled), AZD7442, Azithromycin, Doxycycline, Interferons, Tocilizumab, Sarilumab, Canakinumab, Anakinra, Baricitinib, Ruxolitinib, Acalabrutinib, Brensocatib, Ravulizumab, Gemtuzumab ozogamicin, Namilumab, Infliximab, Adalimumab, Otilimab, Medi3506, Antiviral antibody cocktail, Leronlimab, LY-CoV555, LY-CoV016, Risankizumab, Lenzilumab, and IMU-838

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COVID-19 vaccine trials

Researchers around the world are also crafting different types of COVID-19 vaccines in their labs. These vaccines are all trying to help people gain immunity to the virus, prevent severe (and fatal) symptoms, and stop transmission. “The identification of SARS-CoV-2 mutations and variants has led to new research requirements demanding specific clinical studies to confirm COVID-19 vaccine efficacy,” said Don Hackett from our partner organization Precision Vaccinations. The main types of COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. or in large-scale clinical trials include:

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine: The first two emergency use authorized vaccines for COVID-19 were the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (2 shots, 21 days apart) and the Moderna vaccine (2 shots, 28 days apart), both of which use mRNA. These trials both had tens of thousands of participants. The mRNA vaccine gives your cells instructions for how to make a harmless piece of the S protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. After vaccination, your immune cells begin making the S protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces, causing your body to create antibodies. These antibodies will fight the COVID-19 virus. After the mRNA helps your cells make the protein pieces, it is immediately broken down and never enters the nucleus of your cells, where your DNA is kept. 

Vector vaccine: The third emergency use authorized vaccine for COVID-19 is the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (one shot), which is a vector vaccine. In this type of vaccine, genetic material from the COVID-19 virus is inserted into a different kind of weakened live virus. The weakened virus (viral vector) serves as a delivery system, and when it gets into your cells, it delivers genetic material from the COVID-19 virus that gives your cells instructions to make copies of the S protein. Once your cells display the S proteins on their surfaces, your immune system creates antibodies and defensive white blood cells. The antibodies will fight the virus. Viral vector vaccines can't cause you to become infected with the COVID-19 virus or the weakened virus it was delivered in. AstraZeneca is currently working on a vector COVID-19 vaccine as well.

Protein subunit vaccine: These vaccines include only the parts of a virus that best stimulate your immune system. This type of COVID-19 vaccine contains harmless S proteins. Like the other vaccines, once your immune system recognizes the S proteins, it creates antibodies and defensive white blood cells, which fight the virus. Novavax is currently working on a protein subunit COVID-19 vaccine.

A COVID-19 vaccine might prevent you from developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, but as the virus is still spreading and we’re learning more about transmission rates, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing and masking precautions.

COVID-19 observational studies

COVID-19 observational studies that don’t introduce any kind of intervention to affect or change the disease are also being conducted. By measuring and observing the disease and its spread and variants, researchers gain a much clearer picture of risk factors. Understanding what factors impact risk for disease is an important part of understanding how to reduce or prevent the spread of disease (and future diseases like it).

Epidemiologists and public health specialists have been working to understand all the ways that the disease may be passed from one person to another. The current recommendation is that precautions and guidelines, such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding touching your face, can be taken to reduce the spread of the disease.

Want to help scientists fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

Participate in a study

Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation. COVID-19 research is urgent, and there is something we can all do to drive this research forward: participate in clinical trials.

We’ve made the process of finding COVID-19 trials easy with our smart Match search engine. Start your search today, and help advance medical research for everyone.