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Local patients will be tested with COVID-19 treatment


Possibly as soon as Thursday, a new COVID-19 treatment will be given to a local patient. That virus victim will be one of 400 patients across the country who will be treated with the arthritis drug sarilumab. 

It's part of a quickly put together research effort based locally at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"The hopeful idea and the idea is to actually have the drug available to anybody who lives in Western New York, to broad population," said  Dr. Igor Puzanov, Roswell Park's director of early clinical trials.

"This is for people. This not some sort of high-level exercise. This is as real as it gets."

Patients will be treated in Buffalo General Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and Erie County Medical Center.

"Even if it cannot cure the coronavirus, it can prevent potentially people who are getting really, really sick. It can prevent them from getting to the point where they need to be on a ventilator," said Puzanov, who is teaming on the project with UB Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology Gene Morse, a world-renowned expert in viruses and infectious diseases.

"Remember if we just got sick with the virus, but everybody got home and nobody needed a ventilator, it would be a problem but not a deadly problem."

This same approach using a different anti-inflammatory drug cured 19 of 21 patients in a small trial in China and a different arthritis drug is being used the same way in Italy to treat more than 300 patients.

"They also told us that we need to be ready within 24 to 48 hours. This was unheard of because normal time is three to six months," Puzanov said.

"This is a pandemic and everybody has to step up to the plate. So, we, of course, said yes."


Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.