The National Institutes of Health is launching a second phase of clinical trials for treatments of long Covid, the agency announced Monday—the latest step in addressing the poorly understood long-term impacts of Covid-19.

Key Facts

The NIH is seeking people who are experiencing long Covid symptoms to participate in one of four trials as part of its Researching Covid to Enhance Recovery, or RECOVER, initiative.

The first trial—dubbed “RECOVER-VITAL”—will seek to study how Covid-19’s long-term effect on patients’ immune system can be treated.

The second—RECOVER-NEURO—will attempt to find interventions to the neurological impacts of long Covid like brain fog, memory issues and difficulty paying attention, problem solving or critical thinking.

The third—RECOVER-SLEEP—will try to find treatments for sleep-related issues, and the final trial—RECOVER-AUTONOMIC—will study treatments for Covid-19-induced problems in the autonomic nervous system, which controls a range of bodily functions including heart rate, breathing and digestive system activity.

Additionally, the NIH is working on a fifth trial that it hopes can find a treatment for the long-term impacts Covid-19 has had on some people’s ability to exercise, but that trial is still in the works.

These trials will involve a number of medicines and therapies including Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid, which was initially developed to treat Covid-19 immediately after a positive test, and a web-based brain training program called BrainHQ the NIH hopes will help people regain neurological function.

What To Watch For

More trials in the future. In addition to the in-development exercise trial, the NIH said it expects to launch at least six more trials in the coming months. These trials will enroll participants on a rolling basis, the NIH said.

Big Number

$1.15 billion. That’s how much the NIH is spending on its RECOVER initiative, making it the largest program in the world aimed at understanding, treating and preventing long Covid.

Key Background

Long Covid occurs when patients continue experiencing symptoms and after-effects of Covid-19 months after the virus has left their body. Those include brain fog, difficulty exercising and other issues. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 15% of all U.S. adults have at some point experienced long Covid symptoms and in January, when the study was being conducted, 6% were currently experiencing symptoms. It was first identified around spring 2020 by online groups of patients who were initially ignored by the larger medical community, but later gained acceptance. Doctors still know very little about long Covid, but these clinical trials mark the most significant attempt to treat these symptoms.

Further Reading

Long Covid Linked To Heart Problems: Here Are The Symptoms – And Who’s At Risk (Forbes)

InnovationRx: Scientists May Have Figured Out What’s Behind Long Covid (Forbes)

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