In the effort to find a treatment for COVID-19, existing medications for cancer might seem like unlikely candidates to fight a virus are being tested. Yet scientists have a theory that Calquence (acalbrutinib), which is approved to treat leukemia and lymphoma might be effective.
COVID-19 patients often experience what is known as a “cytokine storm” caused by an exaggerated immune system, which can damage organs including the lungs and kidneys. The theory is Calquence can silence that storm.
Calquence is under investigation as a potential COVID-19 therapy because it may quiet the cytokine storm. The oral drug acts to stop the activity of an enzyme known as Bruton’s tyrosine kinase that acts like an “on” and “off” switch for many cellular functions.
In clinical trials, the most common side effects seen with Calquence were anemia (lack of red blood cells 46%), followed closely behind by headache (39%) and diarrhea (31%). Other common side effects were fatigue, muscle pain (myalgia), and bruising.
Last week, AstraZeneca, which developed Calquence, said it would begin a global trial of the drug in more than 400 people hospitalized with COVID-19. There will be two arms in the study, dubbed CALAVI. In the first part, one group will receive Calquence and the best supportive care; the other will receive just the best supportive care. In the second part, Calquence and supportive care will be given to intensive care unit patients. Study completion is projected for early September.