A hormone suppressant may help improve outcomes for men infected with coronavirus, according to UCLA researchers who Monday announced the launch of a clinical trial.
The UCLA-led study repurposes a common treatment for prostate cancer in the hopes that it can help reduce the severity of COVID-19 in men, who are more likely than women to contract the virus and die at nearly twice the rate of women, doctors said.
"It's becoming pretty clear that men are more likely than women to die from COVID-19 and we think there is a connection between prostate cancer research and our understanding of COVID-19 research," said Dr. Matthew Rettig, principal investigator and professor of medicine and urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Rettig and his colleagues want to find out if the treatment -- which will suppress male hormones using an FDA-approved medication known as Degarelix -- can decrease the need for intubation and improve mortality rates.
The convergence between prostate cancer research and COVID-19 research begins with a protein receptor called TMPRSS2, which is abnormal in about half of all prostate cancer patients," UCLA officials explained.
The receptor is regulated by male hormones in prostate cancer, and researchers believe it may also be regulated in lung tissue by male hormones."
In the clinical trial, the drug will be used to temporarily shut down the production of TMPRSS2 and effectively block the virus from entering lung tissue.
``It's kind of like a lock and key," said Rettig, who is also the chief of hematology/oncology at the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, where the tests will be conducted (as well as other VA sites across the country).
``If the virus was the key and its receptor is the lock, then the virus inserts into the lock and can gain entry into the lung while the male hormones make that lock more accessible to the virus. By suppressing the male hormones, it's kind of like putting a piece of masking tape over the lock so that the key won't fit."
Rettig concluded: ``We're hoping this will not only help men with COVID-19 get out of the hospital faster, but ultimately, see less men dying from the virus."
The research study providing scientific underpinnings for the clinical trial is available here.