Cancer Drug Significantly Cuts Risk for COVID-19 Death

Megan Brooks

July 08, 2022

Treatment with oral sabizabulin (Veru Pharmaceuticals) cut the risk for death by more than 55% in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, an interim analysis of a phase 3 placebo-controlled trial found.

Sabizabulin treatment consistently and significantly reduced deaths across patient subgroups "regardless of standard of care treatment received, baseline WHO scores, age, comorbidities, vaccination status, COVID-19 variant, or geography," study investigator Mitchell Steiner, MD, chairman, president, and CEO of Veru, said in a news release.

The company has submitted an emergency use authorization request to the US Food and Drug Administration to use sabizabulin to treat COVID-19.

The analysis was published online July 6 in NEJM Evidence.

Sabizabulin, originally developed to treat metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, is a novel, investigational, oral microtubule disruptor with dual antiviral and anti-inflammatory activities. Given the drug's mechanism, researchers at Veru thought that sabizabulin could help treat lung inflammation in patients with COVID-19 as well.

Findings of the interim analysis are based on 150 adults hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 at high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome and death. The patients were randomly allocated to receive 9 mg oral sabizabulin (n = 98) or placebo (n = 52) once daily for up to 21 days.

Overall, the mortality rate was 20.2% in the sabizabulin group vs 45.1% in the placebo group. Compared with placebo, treatment with sabizabulin led to a 24.9–percentage point absolute reduction and a 55.2% relative reduction in death (odds ratio, 3.23; P = .0042).

The key secondary endpoint of mortality through day 29 also favored sabizabulin over placebo, with a mortality rate of 17% vs 35.3%. In this scenario, treatment with sabizabulin resulted in an absolute reduction in deaths of 18.3 percentage points and a relative reduction of 51.8%.

Sabizabulin led to a significant 43% relative reduction in ICU days, a 49% relative reduction in days on mechanical ventilation, and a 26% relative reduction in days in the hospital compared with placebo.

Adverse and serious adverse events were also lower in the sabizabulin group (61.5%) than the placebo group (78.3%).

The data are "pretty impressive and in a group of patients that we really have limited things to offer," Aaron Glatt, MD, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York, told Medscape Medical News. "This is an interim analysis and obviously we'd like to see more data, but it certainly is something that is novel and quite interesting."

David Boulware, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told the New York Times that the large number of deaths in the placebo group seemed "rather high" and that the final analysis might reveal a more modest benefit for sabizabulin.

"I would be skeptical" that the reduced risk for death remains 55%, he noted.

The study was funded by Veru Pharmaceuticals. Several authors are employed by the company or have financial relationships with the company.

NEJM Evidence. Published online July 6, 2022. Article

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