long COVID

Feeling Fatigued? Drug Maker Eyes Long COVID Symptoms With New Treatment

Long COVID is a condition where a patient who recovers from acute SARS-CoV-2 infection suffers from lingering symptoms, such as brain fog, fatigue and shortness of breath.

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In searching for a cure to the enduring enigma of the coronavirus pandemic, one biotechnology company is on a mission to develop a new, possibly the world's first-ever, drug specifically geared to treat long COVID patients.

Long COVID, or post-COVID, is a term used to describe the condition of an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection survivor who experiences lingering symptoms that can impact multiple organs. In certain cases, new symptoms can begin three to four months after initial infection recovery.

Post-COVID poses complex symptoms that can run the gamut, and physicians urge individualized treatment for long haulers. Brain fog, chest pain, pins-and-needles, depression, joint pain and lightheadedness are just a few complications attached to this mystery disease.

Axcella Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotech company based out of Cambridge, Mass., is one of a limited number of drug developers that is honing in on long COVID, particularly targeting a more common symptom -- fatigue.

There's fatigue about COVID because we, as a society, have been dealing with this for along period of time, but COVID fatigue is not going away.

Bill Hinshaw
President and CEO, Axcella

Starting the clinical trial, Axcella teamed up with the University of Oxford to test the drug, AXA1125, on just over 40 long COVID patients whose number one complaint is daily exhaustion. The treatment aims to reverse mitochondrial dysfunction and restore energy efficiency in body cells.

"We have realized that a major contributor to this fatigue could be mitochondrial, which is the powerhouse of the cells and tissues in the body, not functioning well, not producing energy," Dr. Betty Raman, the lead investigator of the study at the University of Oxford, told NBC New York.

The actual therapy is a palatable, powdered 4 to 6 oz. drink that tastes similar to orange juice, according to Dr. Raman, who notes the treatment duration lasts about one month.

During that time period, patients will undergo a special magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique and a series of six-minute walking tests. The team is eagerly waiting for the results during the third quarter.

"That's a really exciting time for all of us to then analyze it, see if we've been effective based on the pre-clinical and clinical data that we generated previously, and then talk about the next steps to expeditiously bring this forward to patients at scale based on those findings," said Bill Hinshaw, president and CEO of Axcella, to News 4.

Research has shown that about 30% of COVID survivors will become long haul patients, according to a recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

With a better understanding of mechanism pathways, Hinshaw hopes to address additional aspects of long COVID with this particular modality as well as other post-viral infections that can cause similar long-term impacts like chronic fatigue syndrome.

Long COVID Economic Burden

As if taking a step back in physical health wasn't enough, long COVID conditions can break the bank not only personally navigating costs and insurance coverage but the economy as a whole.

Over 40% of long haul patients reported themselves unable to return to the workforce with just 5% able to go back feeling at their best, according to one survey by the COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project.

In the same study, just over 50% of those suffering from long COVID were reduced to working part-time with almost all long haulers polled having been impacted financially paying bills from medical appointments, imaging, blood tests and medications.

Patients have noted selling furniture, collectibles and household items to make ends meet. An estimated 1 million Americans may be out of the labor force at any given time, which could lead to $50 billion annually lost in income, based on a JAMA report.

With more residents out of a job, labor shortages may continue to hold steady or increase only fueling the current inflation woes the nation is withstanding.

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