2 minutes

Cytokine release syndrome in severe COVID-19

Lessons from arthritis and cell therapy in cancer patients point to therapy for severe disease.

coronavirus, covid-19

By John B. Moore and Carl H. June

In December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was recognized to have emerged in Wuhan, China. Along with SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV), SARS-CoV-2 is the third coronavirus to cause severe respiratory illness in humans, called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

This was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020 and has had considerable global economic and health impacts. Although the situation is rapidly evolving, severe disease manifested by fever and pneumonia, leading to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), has been described in up to 20% of COVID-19 cases. This is reminiscent of cytokine release syndrome (CRS)-induced ARDS and secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (sHLH) observed in patients with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV as well as in leukemia patients receiving engineered T cell therapy.

Given this experience, urgently needed therapeutics based on suppressing CRS, such as tocilizumab, have entered clinical trials to treat COVID-19.

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