By Andrea Nakano

STANFORD (CBS SF) — Hoping it may be a ‘magic bullet’ in the battle against COVID-19, Stanford doctors have begun the clinical trial of a drug used to treat hepatitis patients on those infected with the coronavirus.

So far, doctors say, early results show some promise in reducing the symptoms and transmission of COVID-19. Until a vaccine is developed, researchers believe this could be the next best thing since it could limit the spread of the highly contagious virus.

“I wish I had an answer and I wish I can say this is the magic bullet but the true answer is I don’t know yet,” said Dr. Prasanna Jagannathan.

The trial is only in its 10th day but researchers have a reason to believe interferon-lambda which has been given to thousands for hepatitis viruses could work for COVID-19.

“It can actually stimulate our bodies own immune defenses to try to get rid of the virus,” Jagannathan said. “That’s how it appears to work in the laboratory and in animals.”

This is the first outpatient clinical trial being done at Stanford. Researchers say it’s critical to develop a treatment plan for those that do not require hospitalization since upward of 80 percent are outpatients.

“This next phase of new therapies that can help individuals or those at home will really help us as we brace living with the coronavirus over the next several months,” Jagannathan said

The trial is still looking for patients between the ages of 18-65 who were recently diagnosed with coronavirus. Patients can either have mild to moderate symptoms or not show any symptoms at all.

Since the drug is believed to reduce viral shedding it may limit the community spread of COVID-19.

“We want to find medicines we can use for people once they have coronavirus to reduce the symptoms and if they don’t have symptoms, reduce the amount of time they are infectious to others,” Jagannathan said.

Researchers say this particular interferon-lambda has more of a localized affect on the lungs so it reduces the side effects of the drug.

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