MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — HealthPartners is now testing a drug which could treat severe COVID-19 pneumonia patients.

The drug – called CM4620-IE – received fast-track approval from the FDA earlier this month, allowing HealthPartners to begin clinical trials.

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CM4620-IE blocks the body’s production of inflammatory molecules, which could reduce lung damage and decrease the need for ventilators. It has been effective in patients with acute pancreatitis and low levels of oxygen.

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“The drug has the potential to protect the lungs against acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is the leading cause of death for patients with COVID-19,” said Charles Bruen, a researcher at Regions Hospital who is leading the study. It could fill the need, he said, for fast-acting treatment for patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

“We are eager to see if this particular drug can provide hope for some of our sickest patients suffering with COVID-19 and their families,” said Critical Care Research Center director Sandi Wewerka.

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Patients in the study will be randomized to either receive three four-hour infusions of the drug over the course of three days, or receive standard care without the drug. They will then be monitored for 10 days, and contacted after 30 days and 60 days for assessment.