An experimental drug could significantly reduce fatigue in people with long COVID, a new study suggests.
Scientists who carried out the small-scale clinical trial believe the drug, called AXA1125, may increase energy production in cells and reduce inflammation for people fighting the virus and its aftereffects.
They are calling for larger studies to confirm the findings.
While most people who catch COVID-19 typically only experience the symptoms in the short term – the NHS says most people fully recover within 12 weeks – for others, some symptoms persist for a long time. This is known as long COVID.
As a new condition, long COVID is still not fully understood.
The researchers behind the new study, from the University of Oxford, gave either the AXA1125 drug or a dummy placebo treatment to 41 patients twice a day for four weeks.
The early-stage, phase 2 study was ‘double-blind’ – so neither the scientists nor the patients knew which they were given until the research ended.
Its results, published in Lancet eClinical Medicine, showed those who received the experimental drug reported significantly improved levels of fatigue.
They were also able to walk further than those given the placebo and scans showed their mitochondria, the ‘power generators’ inside cells, were more likely to be in better health – though this wasn’t deemed statistically significant.
Associate Professor Betty Raman, the study’s principal investigator, said: “The reduction in patients’ own reports of fatigue is really positive news, and we hope that further work will help us understand the underlying processes behind this improvement too.
“There is still some way to go in treating all patients with long COVID.
“Our results focus specifically on fatigue, rather than the breathlessness and cardiovascular issues that other long COVID patients have reported.”
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According to the researchers, emerging data suggests the COVID virus targets mitochondria.
But the combination of five amino acids and an amino acid derivative contained in AXA1125 appears to improve power output through multiple biological pathways.
The trial, which was funded by the manufacturer of the drug, Axcella, only looked at patients with clear signs that mitochondrial function had been disturbed.
The effect of the medication on other symptoms of long COVID has yet to be studied.
Margaret Koziel MD, the company’s chief medical officer, said: “We are encouraged by these results, and hope that a treatment for people who suffer from long COVID fatigue may be in sight.
“We are energized to advance AXA1125 further towards being made available to the millions of patients currently without treatment options.”
By the end of last year, more than 500 million cases of COVID-19 were reported across the world.
According to Oxford University, up to 10% of people who caught the virus are thought to be suffering from long COVID.
Fatigue is one of the main symptoms experienced by patients and there is no approved treatment for the condition.
This study may change that if other researchers can replicate the findings.
Eventually, sufferers could treat their symptoms with a drug like AXA1125.