DURHAM, N.C. -- The coronavirus attacks the body in so many ways, it has kept doctors guessing and sampling drugs they’ve used before for other purposes. 

Mike Sherman, the CEO of Chimerix, says it all started with a drug called DSTAT, under development to treat a serious and complicated type of cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia. Now the company is working in overdrive to start a trial, testing the drug on COVID-19 patients.


“It’s really not much more than a month ago did we start digging into the potential for this drug to be used in COVID,” Sherman says “So working with some key physicians that have been involved in treating patients, and also very experienced researchers and working the with the FDA, it was a matter of a few weeks to get from our first evaluation of this potential to the point where we had the FDA clearance to move ahead with a phase two/three trial.”

“The clinical trials are essentially opening now, and so in the context of clinical trial at select number of investigational hospitals, they’ll be available there for over the next several months probably,” Sherman says. “But in terms of the broader availability, that takes time. We would need to get through the phase two trial first, see the data, make sure that it’s really acting, both from a safety standpoint and efficacy standpoint, the way we anticipate and then we would launch a phase three trial.”

How it works:

Coronavirus causes the body’s immune system to attack itself and trigger inflammation, particularly in the lungs. It also causes clotting disorders. Sherman says they believe DSTAT can help COVID-19 patients with both of these issues.

“This disease essentially manifests in two ways. It is driving this immune response that is particularly attacking the lungs,” Sherman explains. “DSTAT has the potential to interrupt and interfere that immune response. We’re talking about patients who have more advanced disease. They have been admitted to the hospital and are requiring some assistance in terms of supplemental oxygen. So the idea is that if we can interfere with that immune response before it gets too severe, we can potentially create a situation where those patients don’t progress to needing mechanical ventilation. The other thing that the drug has the potential to do is also interfere with the mechanism that’s leading to these clotting disorders. And if you can stop that, then you can substantially reduce the risk of stroke and other problems relating to blood clots."

One of several trials Chimerix is working on:

"We simultaneously received feedback from the FDA giving us clearance to proceed with a submission, an approval submission, for our anti-viral agent for use in the event of a small pox outbreak; so potentially addressing the next potential outbreak and doing that all on top of the work we were doing in oncology in a matter of weeks, having those interactions. So while I would say the organization is probably taxed and tired from working as aggressively as they have, it’s pretty hard not to be motivated to purse these kinds of programs when you know you can be helping patients. So I think that keeps us going and will keep the organization urgently pursuing this one to the finish line.”