Using a human protein to treat patients with sepsis

By Celine Zadorsky

It’s a discovery that has been more than ten years in the making, the use of a human protein to potentially treat patients with sepsis.

Lawson Scientist Dr. Qingping Feng noticed that a human protein called annexin A5 showed positive results in mouse models with sepsis back in 2007. Fast forward to now 2021, 14 years later, and this discovery could very well not only be the first ever viable treatment for sepsis patients, but also for severe COVID-19 patients who develop sepsis. “With COVID initially, it is in the airway and then in the lungs, then from there the inflammatory response in fact spreads to the whole body,” says Feng, Ivey Chair in Molecular Technology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.  “Sepsis causes major organ dysfunction and carries a high mortality unfortunately.”

It has become a challenging issue for Intensive Care Physician at London Health Sciences Centre, Dr. Claudio Martin, who can only do so much to treat severe COVID-19 patients that develop sepsis. “What we have seen is a very primary severe respiratory failure to the lungs for severe COVID patients,” says Dr. Martin, Associate Scientist at Lawson. “We have used steroids and other treatments to try to help, but the results and effects aren’t dramatic and we see patients who have these treatments and still progress and end up in the ICU.”

However, Dr. Feng and his team has found in a pre-clinical study, that annexin A5 can inhibit inflammation and improve organ function and survival when treating sepsis in animal models.

Another potentially deadly situation for COVID-19 patients is cell death and blood clots, specifically near the lungs.  The good news is that the research team also believes the annexin A5 drug will prevent these complications through the drugs anti-apoptotic (cell death prevention) and anti-coagulant (blood clot prevention) properties.

The research team has launched a clinical trial with critically ill COVID-19 patients, using a manufactured form of annexin A5 which was manufactured through a joint partnership with Yabao Pharmaceutical Co, based in China.  The goal is to enroll a total of 60 patients for the clinical trial, and enrollment has already begun. “Patients are receiving standard treatment and then those enrolled will also receive the annexin,” says Dr. Martin. “It’s a placebo blinded clinical trial, so patients will either get a lower dose of annexin, a higher dose of annexin, or a placebo.”

If the clinical trial shows promising results, Dr. Feng says the team plans on expanding into a larger phase three trial with not just COVID-19 patients with sepsis, but other sepsis patients as well. “If in fact Annexin A5 is shown to be effective in sepsis, then this will be a huge benefit for society because sepsis is the leading cause of death worldwide.”

Celine Zadorsky is a Communications Consultant at Lawson Health Research Institute.