COVID-19 case numbers finally showed signs of slowing down in many parts of the globe this summer. Parts of Asia and continental Europe started opening their doors again, as a stir-crazy world began stepping outside and even traveling. However, in some places the reopening might have come a little too soon, as countries like France and Ireland returned to shelter-at-home orders, and states across the U.S. saw a sharp uptick in cases.
The long-predicted fall/winter wave of coronavirus cases seems to have rolled in, but luckily our understanding of the virus is improving by the week. Treatments options are increasing, and vaccines are entering Phase III trials. Recently, a new Johns Hopkins research study discovered a possible new key to controlling the immune response to COVID-19.
One way to stop the coronavirus from having extreme effects on the body seems to be by blocking a specific protein. This protein, known as factor D, enables the virus to turn the immune system against healthy cells, resulting in the widespread organ damage that is associated with the most severe cases of COVID-19. By inhibiting this protein, researchers believe they can stop the deadly inflammatory reactions in its tracks.
“Previous research has suggested that along with tying up heparan sulfate, SARS-CoV-2 activates a cascading series of biological reactions—what we call the alternative pathway of complement, or APC—that can lead to inflammation and cell destruction if misdirected by the immune system at healthy organs,” said Robert Brodsky, Director of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Hematology Division and the Senior Author on the study. “The goal of our study was to discover how the virus activates this pathway and to find a way to inhibit it before the damage appears.”
There are already several drugs currently in various stages of trial that act on factor D, as it has been studied in relation to other diseases, like macular degeneration and a rare kidney disorder known as atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome. According to Brodsky, these drugs could be FDA-approved and on the market in as little as two years and could possibly work with vaccines to reduce the risk of future pandemics.