LUMC launches study on drug that should protect transplant patients from COVID-19

28 October 2020• NEWSITEM

The LUMC, in collaboration with pharmaceutical company Aurinia, is initiating a study into the protective effects of the new drug voclosporin in kidney transplant patients with COVID-19. Voclosporin inhibits the immune system and is used by organ recipients. The study investigates whether this drug offers more protection against COVID-19 in transplant patients than the most commonly used immunosuppressive drug tacrolimus.

"The COVID-19 pandemic creates new complications for patients who need immune system inhibition to preserve their transplanted organ. As a result, they are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms after infection," said Onno Teng, nephrologist and leader of this study at LUMC.


Calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) have been shown to inhibit the replication of various viruses in cells. Natacha Ogando and Martijn van Hemert of the department of Medical Microbiology showed a similar antiviral effect of CNIs on cells infected with the current coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. In collaboration with Dirk Jan Moes of the Clinical Pharmacy and Toxicology department, they demonstrated that in particular voclosporin effectively inhibited coronavirus replication.

In contrast to voclosporin, tacrolimus, a commonly used immunosuppressive drug, showed no antiviral activity against the coronavirus. "Therefore, voclosporin is a potentially attractive CNI for SARS-CoV-2 infected transplant patients who already use CNIs as part of their chronic immunosuppressive therapy," says Aiko de Vries, nephrologist and co-leader of the study.

Study in patients

Therefore, the LUMC is starting a 56-day study comparing the antiviral effects of voclosporin in twenty COVID-19-positive kidney transplant recipients with tacrolimus. Half of this group will continue to use tacrolimus while the other ten will switch to voclosporin. After 56 days, the researchers examine how much virus particles the patients still contain and whether this differs between the two groups. In addition, the researchers look at the time until patients no longer have any symptoms, the safety and tolerability of the drugs. After these 56 days, patients are followed for up to a year to determine the long-term safety of voclosporin.

The pharmaceutical company Aurinia is the producer of voclosporin. "We are pleased to test the potential of voclosporin to meet the urgent needs of this particular patient population, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Robert Huizinga, Executive Vice President Research at Aurinia. The new drug is not yet commercially available in the Netherlands and is therefore only used in research settings.

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