Cancer drug rescued patients with lung failure
Infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can trigger the disease COVID-19, which in rare cases can cause lung failure. This lung failure is highly related to the risk of dying from COVID-19. German doctors are now reporting treatment success. A COVID-19 patient was in mortal danger after a lung failure. A cancer drug saved her.
Doctors in Marburg university medicine may have discovered a new treatment method for life-threatening COVID-19 courses. They were able to save the life of a 65-year-old COVID-19 patient by taking the cancer drug ruxolitinib. The case was recently described in the medical journal "Leukemia".
Successful treatment for lung failure
For the first time, a patient seriously ill with COVID-19 was successfully cured by the cancer drug ruxolitinib. The 65-year-old suffered acute lung failure (ARDS) as a result of SARS-CoV-2 infection. "Mortality is high in these cases," reports Dr. Thomas Wiesmann, one of the treating doctors.
The woman's condition deteriorated rapidly
The woman had no previous medical conditions and was admitted to university medicine in Marburg due to progressive shortness of breath and fever. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, so that she had to be artificially ventilated (intubated) just three hours after admission. Overall, her condition was assessed as critical.
Saving clue came from Chinese studies
"We knew from Chinese publications that the patients with a severe and even fatal course were characterized by a so-called cytokine storm," explains Professor Dr. Andreas Neubauer, a cancer doctor from Marburg University Medicine. This is an overreaction of the immune system, in which the body is flooded with substances that damage the tissue. As a result of a cytokine storm, the virus could multiply suddenly.
The cancer doctor came up with a saving idea. He knew from cancer treatment that the drug could respond to ruxolitinib. The drug inhibits enzymes in the body that are involved in excessive inflammatory reactions. "We have pointed out to the treating colleagues that the cancer drug could perhaps avert the life-threatening effects that inflammatory damage to the lung tissue entails," says Neubauer.
A hard decision
"We faced a difficult decision," emphasizes clinic director Professor Dr. Hinnerk Wulf. It was uncertain whether the theory would be confirmed or whether the treatment posed an unknown risk. Finally, the team decided to give ruxolitinib.
A remarkable success
After the cancer drug was administered, the Marburg patient's condition improved continuously. The team documented stabilization and a rapid improvement in breathing and heart function. "This course was remarkable compared to that of other affected people," emphasizes Wiesmann. Virus proliferation was curtailed after the cancer drug was administered. After ten days, the patient was gradually weaned from the ventilator.
Success has already been repeated
Due to the great success of the treatment, the Marburg team used the cancer drug in several other patients to get to grips with severe COVID-19 courses. "In the end, everyone who had been given the product for more than a week turned out to be fine," summarizes Neubauer. Another team of doctors around Professor Dr. Paul Graf La Rosée from the Black Forest Baar Clinic also reported that the product was used successfully.
Has effective treatment for severe history been discovered?
Following the success of the treatment, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices has now approved a clinical study in which the effects of ruxolitinib on COVID-19 are to be scientifically examined. "The time relationship between the start of ruxolitinib administration and the improvement in health is so close that it seems reasonable to assume that the inhibition may have contributed to the favorable clinical course," adds Neubauer. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- Andreas Neubauer, Thomas Wiesmann, Claus F. Vogelmeier, and others: Ruxolitinib for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); in: Leukemia, 2020,, nature.com