BMBF provides 6.5 million euros in funding for research into Long COVID

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Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides funding for a research project at the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinik Erlangen.

Since May 2021, doctors at the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen have successfully treated four patients suffering long-term effects of a COVID infection, commonly known as Long COVID. All four people suffering from severe Long COVID symptoms experienced a reduction in symptoms after receiving the cardiac drug BC 007. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is now supporting further research at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. The study planned by the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen is one of ten projects to receive a total of 6.5 million euros in funding from the BMBF. The study hopes to systematically prove whether and on the basis of which mechanisms the active ingredient BC 007 can help other Long COVID patients.

The research project at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen ‘Autoantibodies against G-protein coupled receptors as a damaging agent for microcirculation and as the cause of persisting symptoms in Long COVID: A clinical-experimental approach’ has received funding from the BMBF for at least one and a half years. As Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek announced at a press conference on 23 September 2021, the project is one of ten projects investigating the long-term effects of COVID-19 which are to receive funding worth a total of 6.5 million euros from the German government. The team from the Department of Ophthalmology will be working in partnership with the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Helmholtz-Zentrum München.

BMBF funding secures strong scientific basis

Until now, the researchers at Universitätsklinikum have successfully treated a 59 year old banker, a 51 year old key account manager, a 39 year old primary school teacher and another 64 year old patient using BC 007. ‘The BMBF funding will allow us to establish the scientific basis for our findings, investigate the molecular processes and explore the success of drug BC 007 in treating a larger number of patients,’ explains ophthalmologist PD. Dr. Dr. Bettina Hohberger.

After contracting Covid-19, autoantibodies circulate in the patient’s bloodstream and attack proteins in the body. ‘BC 007 was originally designed to treat heart conditions. The interesting thing about it is that it appears capable of eliminating damaging autoantibodies in all patients who have them in their bloodstream, no matter which disease the patient has. In our Long-COVID patients, we can see that the drug binds and neutralises the harmful autoantibodies and retinal micro circulation, in other words blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in the eye, improves. We presume that this effect is not restricted to the eye, but rather affects the body as a whole. Circulation improves and Long-COVID symptoms subside,’ explains Bettina Hohberger.

Preparations for clinical phase 2a study underway at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen

The planned clinical placebo-controlled phase 2a study at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen is aimed at investigating the scientific basis for the new treatment approach. Specifically, the focus will lie on the neutralisation of autoantibodies against G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR-AAb). ‘We would like to investigate the connection between the autoantibodies produced as a result of an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the restricted blood flow to the eye and the circulation of blood throughout the organism as a whole,’ explains Prof. Dr. Christian Mardin, assistant chief physician at the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. PD Dr. Dr. Hohberger adds, ‘In the lab, for example, we will observe how the autoantibodies influence the function and plasticity of blood cells and vessels. We hope to find out which specific molecular mechanisms led to our success in treating Long COVID. Our aim is to pave the way for pivotal clinical trials in order to allow more people to benefit from treatment with medication against Long COVID in the near future.’

Prof. Mardin adds, ‘since publishing the success we have had with our first patients, we have been inundated with queries from people suffering from Long-COVID. We are grateful for this funding and the opportunity to drive our research forward in this crucial area.’

Until further notice, anyone with Long COVID symptoms can write an e-mail to recover.au@uk-erlangen.de. If you are a suitable candidate, you will be contacted if and when the phase 2a study starts.

Looking back: Successes to date – Long COVID symptoms disappeared after patients given BC 007

Axel N. from Upper Franconia was patient number one. He has been a glaucoma patient at the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinik Erlangen since 2007. After contracting Covid-19, the 59 year old from the Coburg region started to have difficulty concentrating, he experienced changes to his sense of taste and extreme fatigue. At family get-togethers he would just fall asleep at the table, and couldn’t follow conversations. Just a short time after receiving one infusion of BC 007, his Long COVID symptoms disappeared completely. The blood flow to his retina had improved, as shown on the optical coherence tomography angiography (OCT-A). He still feels well today, he feels healthy and is pursuing an active lifestyle.

Oliver G., 51, from the Allgäu region of Germany was also given BC 007. He felt like the rug was pulled out from under his feet when he contracted Covid-19 in May 2020. He 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. He suffered so badly from brain fog that he had to give up sport and stand down from his position as a key account manager. Oliver G. needed help with even the simplest household tasks. ‘I was a shadow of my former self, a zombie. I barely recognised myself,’ says the 51 year old. However, his symptoms were alleviated after receiving one infusion of BC 007 lasting 75 minutes. Today, Oliver G. can once more cycle, ride his motorbike and drive his car, do sport and take his dog out for a walk. And he has managed to return to work.

The most severely affected patient treated at the Department of Ophthalmology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen for Long-COVID to date was a 39 year old primary school teacher from Middle Franconia. She complained of severe fatigue, brain fog, problems with balance, coordination, memory and concentration, as well as experiencing difficulties walking and changes to her sense of taste. She was temporarily paralysed in one of her hands and one of her feet. The patient herself explains, ‘I was a fit and healthy person before contracting Covid. Afterwards, I was confined to bed and didn’t even feel up to reading.’ ‘This patient also experienced a considerable improvement in her brain fog on day one after receiving the medication,’ confirmed PD Dr. Dr. Hohberger. ‘In addition, her neurological restrictions and fatigue are visibly improving.’

The team at the Department of Ophthalmology selected one further Long COVID patient, a 64 year old man, for treatment. ‘He also seems to have responded well to treatment,’ claims Bettina Hohberger.

Further information:

PD Dr. Dr. Bettina Hohberger

Phone.: +49 9131 8533001

recover.au@uk-erlangen.de