Written by by Dave Roberts, CNN
With an increasingly busy medical schedule, Marian wants to join the resistance to a negative “antibiotic-resistant” tag.
At 50, she had a cascade of surgery to remove her pancreas and gallbladder before the illness set in, causing breathing problems, headaches and skin ulcers.
While working her way through medical school, her gastroenterologist worried about her immune system — a staple of the multi-specialty tracks at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine — and urged her to try an experimental immunotherapy drug.
This Swiss-made antibody was designed to attack a disease Mariah had called congenital adenomatous polyposis. This largely invisible condition involves overgrowth of benign cells that can grow into tumors in the gastrointestinal tract.
When Mariah’s GP saw her in May 2016, “he said my pancreatic cancer seemed pretty well controlled by my drug, and suggested immunotherapy,” she says.
The drug, called SAR3061A, was part of a trial at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre funded by drug maker AstraZeneca.
The Sydney trial carried out by former co-disease team leader John Danenberg had determined a drug — AZD6244 — could kill a variety of aggressive tumors in people with uncontrolled breast cancer.
Danenberg concluded SAR3061A was effective against two different types of breast cancer that have metastasized and spread to the liver, the adrenal gland and the lungs.
But doctors were stumped by the fact the trial included patients with most common endocrine cancers, known as estrogen receptor-positive cancers.
Earlier this year, a trial team based at Croydon Hospital in London tested the drug as a treatment for, of all things, a urinary tract infection.
Cancer and the gut
The research that would prove SAR3061A the most effective antibiotic drug against COVID-19 was completed in May.
Her caisson counts about 30,000 bacteria in a good day, Marian says.
Acre recoveries from COVID-19 respond best to an oral drug, but the response was 50% for SAR3061A.
“There was an 85% reduction in the number of gram-negative bacteria and 96% reduction in gram-positive bacteria. I didn’t even notice the difference. It was a total surprise,” she said.
Around 1% of colonoscopies look for COVID-19, and the disease occurs in about 15 million people worldwide, says Dr. Gary J. Rosenthal, an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
COVID-19 produces antibodies that attack the bacteria that colonize the gut, but unlike existing medicines, it cannot be harvested and then intravenously applied back to the body.
So to test the effectiveness of the antibody as a preventative strategy, scientists developed a test called a PCV assay.
“All in all, the antibody did about 80% better in preventing the growth of the bacteria,” Rosenthal said.
The model is now being researched in trials in both Europe and the United States, he added.
‘A massive success’
The allergy-free SAR3061A treatment is also much cheaper, Rosenthal said. It would likely cost at least $10,000 in the United States, compared with about $20,000 for conventional antibiotics.
“It’s a massive success,” said Danenberg, who is now studying genetic testing for immunotherapy trials. “The short-term benefits are the removal of the tumors and the strength in the antibodies that will last for many years.”
Called a quasispecies antibody, SAR3061A is one of several compounds that were uncovered after decoding the genomes of millions of species — each with a different genetic material.
In this process, scientists unravelled the genes that produce certain proteins.
As doctors would no longer need to develop new medications for COVID-19, they might opt for immunotherapy.
“We need to get a better handle on the human immunodeficiency virus,” Rosenthal says.
“If we learned how to cure people with this type of disorder, it would provide major benefits to the health care system, including reducing the number of hospitals and intensive care units,” he added.
For Mariah, despite a painful and medically controlled set of new symptoms, she says her treatment regimen is still one of her favorite memories.
Her immune system has improved, and she can now run her own house.