Further patients benefit from drug against Long COVID

Patient Oliver G.
Oliver G. can smile again. ‘I can finally stop living like a couch potato,’ he grins. Photo: Franziska Männel/Universitätsklinikum Erlangen

Results of first successful treatment confirmed with two other Long COVID patients

After the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen announced their global breakthrough in early July 2021 of successfully treating a Long COVID patient (aged 59), two further patients are now on the road to recovery thanks to the drug BC 007. The team at the Department of Ophthalmology has used the approach to treat two more patients. A 51 year old man from the Allgäu region and a 39 year old woman from Middle Franconia both received the active ingredient BC 007 intravenously in an infusion lasting 75 minutes, and were then kept in the hospital for monitoring for a further three days. They have continued to attend outpatient appointments to monitor their health ever since. Both patients have already reported significant improvements in their performance and quality of life, and this has been corroborated in medical tests.

Following the pattern seen in the patient who was treated first, BC 007 also caused Long COVID symptoms in these patients to subside shortly after it was administered. ‘After someone contracts COVID-19, special autoantibodies start to circulate in their bloodstream. These then turn on the body itself and may damage certain structures within the body or affect circulation,’ explains ophthalmologist PD Dr. Dr. Bettina Hohberger. The drug BC 007 was developed several years ago, originally for patients with severe heart disease, but could now potentially be used in the fight against Long COVID. ‘In both patients currently being treated, we can see that BC 007 neutralises the harmful autoantibodies and retinal micro circulation, in other words blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in the eye, improves. We can prove that this is the case using optical coherence tomography angiography, or OCT-A for short. In addition, both patients experienced a reduction in their clinical Long COVID symptoms,’ confirmed Bettina Hohberger.

‘I was a shadow of my former self, a zombie. I barely recognised myself’

The second patient to receive the drug against Long COVID was Oliver G. (51) from the Allgäu region in Germany. He was knocked off his feet after contracting Covid in May 2020. Until then, Oliver G. had been a successful, internationally active key account manager, a keen cross-country skier who led a healthy lifestyle and had even taken part in several iron man competitions. After contracting Covid-19 he suddenly started to suffer from severe fatigue, problems with his balance, coordination and memory, twitching muscles and a pronounced tremor in his right hand and arm. ‘I was shaking so much it started to affect my leg. At one point, I thought I had Parkinson’s,’ he explains. In May 2020 he had no other option but to step down from his challenging job in sales. ‘I was completely disoriented and unfocused, I was just trying my best to survive from one day to the next. I was a shadow of my former self, a zombie. I barely recognised myself.’ Like many others affected by Long COVID, Oliver G. suffered from brain fog He had to withdraw from a reintegration programme offered by his company to get him back into work after just three months. ‘I was no longer able to follow conversations, I couldn’t draft a presentation or carry out negotiations and my colleagues had to help me with everything. At home, tackling the smallest chores became a major challenge, and for a while I even needed a home help. Reading, pottering around in the garden or taking my dog for a walk was basically all I could cope with. My problems with balance meant that I couldn’t drive, cycle or go on my motorbike. As if that wasn’t enough, I was plagued by financial worries, panic attacks and what I call emotional incontinence. I was completely incapable of keeping my emotions in check.’ Oliver G. even found himself unable to exercise at all, although that had, until then, been his preferred way to unwind.

In early July 2021 the 51 year old heard about the first successful attempt to treat Long COVID and got in touch with the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. At the end of July he received his first infusion of BC 007. His autoantibodies were neutralised and the OCT-A showed an improvement in his blood flow. The very day after receiving the medicine, his brain fog lifted and his muscles stopped twitching as much as before. On day two his tremor disappeared. Over the course of the first week, his balance, fatigue, coordination and memory all improved. ‘My physical, cognitive and mental abilities have all returned. I have stopped lounging around incapable of doing anything else, I can think clearly again, I am emotionally stable and able to feel happy again,’ he explains. He is also looking forward to going back to work in his old position, after an enforced break of 15 long months. ‘I am grateful that my employer did not give up on me, and supported me every step of the way.’

Group photo
The team from the Department of Ophthalmology with patient Oliver G. in front of the Department of Neurology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen: Jakob Hoffmanns, Franzi Reith, Oliver G., PD Dr. Dr. Bettina Hohberger and Prof. Dr. Christian Mardin (from left to right). Photo: Franziska Männel/Universitätsklinikum Erlangen

The most severely affected Long-COVID patient to date

Patient no. 3 is a 39 year old primary school teacher from Middle Franconia. After contracting COVID-19, she also suffered from severe fatigue, brain fog, problems with balance, coordination, memory and concentration, as well as experiencing difficulties walking and changes to her sense of taste. At times she was temporarily paralysed in one of her hands and one of her feet. ‘This patient was the most severely affected by Long COVID that I have seen so far,’ reports Bettina Hohberger. She was no longer able to work and she was extremely unsteady on her feet. It was very difficult for her to follow conversations, and she kept falling asleep,’ reports the doctor. The patient herself explains, ‘I was a fit and healthy person before contracting Covid. I would go jogging three times a week, and absolutely loved cycling. My life was turned on its head when I came down with Covid. Most of the time I was confined to bed and didn’t even feel up to reading. ‘Just visiting the doctor, having a brief chat with colleagues or going for a short walk was enough to leave me paralysed for several hours. On the worst days, I was even unable to speak, although my thoughts were clear and I knew what I wanted to say. I would never have coped without my husband, my parents and the help of our friends,’ she continues.

The 39 year old was also given BC 007 at the Department of Ophthalmology in Erlangen. ‘Her brain fog cleared significantly on day one after receiving the medicine,’ reports Bettina Hohberger. ‘Since then, her neurological symptoms and her fatigue have improved significantly.’ Once again, it is apparent that the active ingredient has successfully intervened into the patient’s molecular pathomechanism. The autoantibodies against G-protein-coupled receptors were neutralised and clinical tests indicated an improvement in the flow of blood to the eye. ‘I have noticed steady improvements in my neurological symptoms. I have not experienced any paralysis since the infusion. Slowly but surely, I’m regaining confidence in my body. If I try to run or play with my children I do notice that my body becomes exhausted much quicker than before, but I recover after taking a rest. That was simply impossible before getting the medicine,’ reports the patient. 10 days after her treatment, the 39 year old had the following to say: ‘I’m so happy with the progress I’m making, and I’m thrilled that I can start to be there for my children again. Day by day I’m inching closer to my greatest dream: living an independent life, being there for my children and finally, at some point, for the pupils in my class. I am proud of the research being conducted here in Erlangen and eternally grateful for the excellent work being done and the care and attention I received. I sincerely hope that the medicine will be able to help many more Long COVID patients in the near future.’

Patient number one, a 59 year old banker from the Coburg district, is still feeling well three months after first receiving treatment at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. He is not displaying any Long COVID specific symptoms, feels in good health and is living an active lifestyle.

No further treatment until after clinical studies

Prof. Dr. Christian Mardin, assistant chief physician at the Department of Ophthalmology stresses that although a fourth patient has recently been treated with BC 007, there are no plans to attempt to treat any other Long COVID patients with BC 007 at the current time. ‘We have filed an application for funding with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and hope that it will be approved. If so, then we could perhaps start clinical studies this year.’ Until then, people with Long COVID symptoms are welcome to send an e-mail to recover.au@uk-erlangen.de. If they are suitable candidate, they will be contacted if and when clinical studies start.

Initial idea arose from interdisciplinary research at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen

Doctors at the Department of Ophthalmology as well as the Department of Medicine 1– Gastroenterology, Pneumology and Endocrinology and the Department of Medicine 3 – Rheumatology and Immunology had already discovered during the ReCOVer study that patients who have recovered from Covid-19 still have significantly limited blood flow to the eyes even if several months have passed since the infection. The researchers presumed that the changes to the blood flow affected the whole body, not just the eye. ‘It appears as if the drug BC 007 improves blood flow, leading to a reduction in Long COVID symptoms. We plan to investigate the various processes involved in more depth in future,’ PD Dr. Dr. Hohberger explains.

Further information

PD Dr. Dr. Bettina Hohberger
Phone: +49 9131 85 33001