Nanoparticle therapy may help patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infections: Small clinical trial shows experimental OP-101 drug suppresses COVID-19-related inflammation and brain injury

Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say that an experimental dendrimer nanoparticle treatment called OP-101 substantially reduced the risk of death and need for a ventilator in a study of 24 severely ill adults hospitalized with COVID-19.

Results of the small clinical trial, funded by Ashvattha Therapeutics, a Johns Hopkins startup company that makes the drug, specifically found that patients who received the drug had a greater than fourfold higher rate of decrease in biomarkers of inflammation and brain injury circulating in their blood compared with patients who received a placebo.

A report on the study was published July 20 in Science Translational Medicine.

“OP-101 could be a potent therapy for decreasing hyperinflammation and promoting repair in people with severe COVID, showing significant clinical benefit without the associated side effects typically seen with some other treatments,” says Sujatha Kannan, M.B.B.S., professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Kannan and her husband, Kannan Rangaramanujam, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, developed OP-101 by attaching a powerful antioxidant/anti-inflammatory drug known as n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) to a nanoparticle that is 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper. Each nanoparticle has a number of molecules of the drug attached to it, and can deliver the drug specifically to inflammatory cells called macrophages. The dendrimer nanoparticle delivers the drug to only those macrophages involved in inflammation at the site of injury. Currently, NAC is used in a different form to treat acetaminophen poisoning and for thinning mucus secretions in airways.

The pair of researchers are co-inventors on patents related to the drug’s discovery, and founded a biotechnology company, Ashvattha Therapeutics Inc., based in California, to develop the drug and fund clinical trials. The company licenses the technology through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

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