Science‘s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation
When U.S. patients began to fall sick with COVID-19 earlier this year, Louis Staudt and Wyndham Wilson had an idea for how to help them. The two doctors at the National Cancer Institute had shown that acalabrutinib, a drug they helped develop for some types of lymphomas, has the side effect of dampening part of the immune response. Given the damage the immune reaction to SARS-CoV-2 creates in severely sick patients, acalabrutinib might have a positive effect, Staudt and Wilson reasoned.
Now, their idea is about to be tested in one of the world’s largest studies of COVID-19 therapies: the Solidarity trial, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s not because the drug holds so much promise—the evidence it might work is scant—but because Solidarity researchers have crossed more promising drugs off their list and are ready to try something new.
On 15 October, WHO released Solidarity’s preliminary results for drugs that had raised earlier hopes—and they’re a disappointment. The trial confirmed previous studies showing the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir don’t reduce mortality. It also dashed hopes for the much-touted antiviral remdesivir (given to U.S.