In the coming weeks, UNC Health will enroll patients in a clinical trial to see whether an antiviral drug, Paxlovid, helps treat long COVID.
The trial is part of a large, national study run by the National Institutes of Health that aims to discover ways to treat the root causes of long COVID. Current therapies for the condition focus on managing symptoms.
The Duke Clinical Research Institute will help coordinate these trials at about 80 different institutions across the country.
Dr. John Baratta, the co-director of UNC’s Long COVID Recovery Clinic, explains what you need to know about the trial:
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Though researchers don’t know exactly why some people develop long COVID, one theory is that fragments of the virus stay in the body long after the initial infection.
Scientists hope Paxlovid, an antiviral widely used to make a COVID infection less severe, will help rid the body of these “viral fragments.” Though anecdotal evidence suggests this medication could be effective at reducing long COVID symptoms, rigorous data has not yet been collected.
“Right now there is a real lack of evidence either to support its use or refute its use,” Baratta said.
This study will specifically look at how this medication helps patients with different “clusters” of symptoms. Those clusters are:
- Exercise intolerance, including symptoms like fatigue.
- Cognitive dysfunction, including symptoms like brain fog.
- Autonomic dysfunction, including symptoms like elevated heart rate and gastrointestinal issues.
Who can enroll in the clinical trial?
In order to qualify for the study, participants must:
- Be 18 or older.
- Have had a “suspected, probable or confirmed” COVID-19 infection.
- Have multiple ongoing symptoms of long COVID.
- Be able to travel to UNC-Chapel Hill for a handful of appointments.
To see if you qualify, email the study coordinator at [email protected] or 919-966-6712.
How will the trial work?
The trial will last six months.
All participants will start the trial with questionnaires and blood work, to gauge the severity of symptoms and measure biomarkers of long COVID.
Some patients will take the pills for 15 days and others will take the pills for 10 days.
Others will be randomly assigned to the “control group,” and will receive a pill with no active ingredients. This group will act as a baseline, so researchers can tell how effective Paxlovid is in comparison.
Researchers will take blood and conduct symptom assessments for several months after participants receive the medication.
They will also evaluate any side effects of the medication. Baratta said Paxlovid is generally a very safe medication, but prescribers should be careful about its interactions with other drugs.
Teddy Rosenbluth covers science and health care for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.