The drug imatinib was already used at the beginning of the corona pandemic in patients with severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19. There were indications that this drug reduced mortality among these patients. This week, an article was published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine that this is indeed the case. In the long-term, mortality in the group of patients who received imatinib was about 50% lower than patients who received a placebo.

In June 2021, researchers from Amsterdam UMC already showed that admitted patients with severe pneumonia due to COVID-19 who were treated with imatinib had a shorter duration of invasive ventilation and shorter stay at the intensive care unit. Furthermore, a signal for reduced mortality was observed after treatment with imatinib.

Long-term effects

In a follow-up study, they investigated whether this effect could also be seen over a long period of time - from March 2020 to April 2021 - and assessed the effect on the course of disease during intensive care admission. The results were published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. They show that also in the long term the mortality in the group of patients who received imatinib was about 50% lower than patients who received a placebo.
Researcher Erik Duijvelaar: "Not only mortality was reduced, but patients who received imatinib also needed less invasive mechnical ventilation during the first 14 days. We saw that these patients required less oxygen supplementation. The uptake of oxygen was also increased in these patients, indicating that imatinib combats the effects of COVID-19."

COVID-19 damages tiny blood vessels

In severe COVID-19 cases, the smallest blood vessels of the lungs are damaged. This causes pulmonary vascular leakageatten wherby fluid leaks into the alveoli and impairs oxygen uptake. Earlier studies have shown that imatinib can attenuate this fluid leakage. This probably explains why patients with COVID-19 recover more quickly after treatment with this drug.
To confirm this hypothesis and further establish the potential clinical benefit of imatinib, the researchers are conducting a large, randomised trial. Lung specialist Jurjan Aman: "In this follow-up study we will look at the effect of imatinib on leakage of fluid to the alveoli in very seriously ill patients in the intensive care. Since imatinib is an inexpensive drug, studies are also performed by the European Union (EU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess the beneficial effect of imatinib in COVID-19 disease.