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Reduced Viral Loads Seen in COVID-19 Patients Treated With UVA Light

Cedars-Sinai Research Involving Five Critically Ill Patients is Encouraging and Warrants Further Investigation, Scientists Say

Ultraviolet light treatments introduced into the tracheas of five critically ill COVID-19 patients appeared to be safe and associated with a reduction in the respiratory load of SARS-CoV-2—the virus responsible for COVID-19—in all but one patient, according to a study conducted by Cedars-Sinai.

The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Therapy, were based on five days of 20-minute treatments with ultraviolet A (UVA) light using a catheter inserted into the patients' tracheas. Patients were followed for 30 days. The findings were based on four patients; the fifth patient had no detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 at the study outset.

The research indicated that the reduced viral loads appeared to be associated with improvement in the patients' clinical conditions as measured by a standard scale used by the World Health Organization. The investigators emphasized the preliminary nature of their research, noting that they did not demonstrate a causal link between the improvement in patient conditions and the reduced viral loads.

"Although our study suggested that ultraviolet A light may be useful in treating COVID-19, further investigation is needed to determine whether this approach can improve clinical outcomes," said Ali Rezaie, MD, FRCP(C), medical director of GI Motility at Cedars-Sinai and the study's corresponding author.

Rezaie, an associate professor of Medicine, explained that the study was limited by the small sample size and the fact that the natural history of SARS-CoV-2 levels in the respiratory tracts of COVID-19 intensive care patients is not well understood. Larger studies that include a control group are needed to further gauge the effects of UVA light treatment and to explore the mechanism of these effects, he added.

The study was led by investigators from the Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) Program, including Rezaie; MAST program director Mark Pimentel, MD, FRCP(C), professor of Medicine; Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C), professor of Medicine; Gil Melmed, MD, professor of Medicine; George Chaux, MD, professor of Medicine; and Gabriela Leite, PhD, project scientist.

Also contributing were other investigators from the Cedars-Sinai Department of Medicine, including Division of General Internal Medicine; Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine; and Division of Infectious Diseases.

Although UVA light phototherapy has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat several dermatological diseases, it has not yet been approved for internal use.

The Advances in Therapy study builds on earlier research by the Cedars-Sinai investigative team, performed using laboratory mice and laboratory cultured human cells, suggesting that UVA light could, under certain conditions, reduce the levels of certain bacteria and viruses that are similar to SARS-CoV-2 without harming the human cells.

Funding: This investigator-initiated study was sponsored by Aytu BioPharma. 

Disclosures: Rezaie, Pimentel, Melmed, Mathur and Leite are inventors on patent applications filed by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center related to the device (internal ultraviolet therapy) being used in this study. These patent applications are exclusively licensed by Cedars-Sinai to Aytu BioPharma, Inc. for endotracheal and nasopharyngeal use only; under the license, Cedars-Sinai has the right to receive royalties from Aytu BioPharma, and the inventors have the right to receive a portion of those royalties from Cedars-Sinai. None of the study authors receives a salary or consulting fees from Aytu BioPharma, and neither the study authors nor Cedars-Sinai have any equity, shares, or options in Aytu BioPharma.

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