Covid-19 roundup: AstraZeneca’s attempt to repurpose Calquence flops

It may be time to cross off another repurposed drug from the list of potential Covid-19 treatments.

AstraZeneca’s BTK inhibitor Calquence failed the primary endpoint in two Phase II trials, the company reported, making little difference in terms of mortality or saving patients from respiratory failure compared to best supportive care alone.

The program — featuring a blockbuster hopeful and one of the stars in AstraZeneca’s cancer pipeline — has been somewhat under the radar compared to the Oxford vaccine or even long-acting antibodies in development. Mid-stage studies started in April following early clinical data suggesting that by blocking the Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, Calquence can decrease the hyperinflammatory immune response and reduce the severity of Covid-19.

Investigators recruited hospitalized patients with respiratory symptoms. They report no new safety issues.

“While the CALAVI results are disappointing, we remain committed to advancing science that helps patients during this unprecedented global pandemic,” José Baselga, EVP in oncology R&D, said in a statement.

In the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, faced with an unknown but fast-spreading virus, repurposing drugs that have already gone through the whole approval process promised to offer a quick, even if not ideal, solution. But eight months into the pandemic, the results have largely been negative.

Two of the most prominent theories have disappointed, with hydroxychloroquine flopping in large-scale late-stage trials and the Regeneron/Sanofi and Roche all but shutting down their IL-6 programs. The bright spots are around dexamethasone, a cheap steroid shown to help patients live; and remdesivir, Gilead’s then-experimental antiviral originally developed for Ebola.

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