Houston VA Begins Clinical Trial for COVID-19 - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Begins Clinical Trial for COVID-19

Researcher donning PPE

Researcher donning PPE

By Maureen Dyman
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

In early July, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center became the first VA facility to participate in an international clinical trial evaluating the therapeutic benefit of an immunomodulator drug, Tocilizumab, (TCZ) as a treatment for Veterans with COVID-19 severe pneumonia.  

 “COVID-19 is known to cause extensive damage in the lungs, often leading to difficulty breathing and eventually pneumonia,” said Dr. Lavannya Pandit, a Houston VA pulmonologist and critical care physician who is a co-investigator in the study. “Pneumonia triggers a hyperimmune response that we are seeing can be more detrimental to some patients than the original infection.”

 TCZ has been successfully used to treat hyperimmune responses in cancer patients, and this trial will help determine if it has a similar effect in those affected with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. The clinical trial is a randomized, placebo controlled study where both the investigator and participant are blinded to who is receiving treatment. Eligible participants include hospitalized patients diagnosed with severe COVID-19 pneumonia that has been confirmed by chest imaging. 

 Veterans will be monitored in a clinical environment for their responses to the treatment, including disease progression, duration of hospitalization, need for critical care and other supportive treatments.

 “VA offers cutting-edge treatments and top quality care for Veterans with COVID-19,” said Barbara Trautner, MD, PhD; Infectious Diseases and a faculty member at the Behavioral Health Program, Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “Participating in this clinical trial allows our Veterans the opportunity to contribute to scientific progress. So far, Veterans at the Houston VA have been very willing to step up and volunteer; we enrolled eight Veterans in the first three days of the study.”     

   The treatments that are offered for COVID-19 three months from now will be very different than what we offer today because of scientific trials like this,” said Trautner.

 In addition to Houston VA, the trial is taking place in more than 50 locations across the United States Europe and Canada, including at Baylor College of Medicine. 

 “I always find it an honor and privilege to care for our Veterans who have served our country,” Trautner said.  “The Veterans we are enrolling in this study are eager to join the fight against COVID-19, and we are happy to provide them this opportunity and do our part.”


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