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Experimental cancer drug promising for hospitalized COVID patients


An experimental cancer drug could be promising for some people hospitalized with COVID-19, a new study shows.

The medication, called sabizabulin and given as a pill, reduced by half the risk of death among participants. It could be more effective than other drugs for those severely sick with COVID-19, The New York Times reports.

The manufacturer, Veru, is seeking emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Hospitalized COVID-19 patients currently have only a few pharmaceutical options.

Sabizabulin blocks cells from building molecular cables that carry material from one part of a cell to another. It was created to fight cancer, because tumor cells need those cables (called microtubules) to grow quickly.

Researchers tried it against COVID-19 2 years ago, because viral replication also requires microtubules to bring pieces of new viruses together.

To participate in the small trial, patients had to be receiving oxygen or on a ventilator and at a high risk of dying from COVID-19, “with risk factors such as hypertension, advanced age or obesity,” the Times reported.

A total of 134 patients received the medicine; 70 got a placebo. Among those receiving sabizabulin, 20.2% died within 2 months; 45.1% of those who took the placebo died.

One infectious disease expert told the Times that the high mortality rate of those on the placebo could mean the study was too small to offer conclusive results.

“The 45% mortality rate in the control group jumps out at me as rather high,” said David Boulware, MD, of the University of Minnesota.

A version of this article first appeared on

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