U clinical trials assess potential COVID-19 treatments


Two Medical School clinical studies are evaluating the high blood pressure drug losartan as a potential treatment for those recently diagnosed with COVID-19. The first is a national multisite study evaluating whether losartan can prevent lung injury in those hospitalized with pneumonia stemming from COVID-19, while the second assesses whether the drug can prevent hospitalizations in the first place.

We’re trying to prevent the lung injury caused by the virus that makes it so deadly. We’re trying to turn COVID-19 into an everyday coronavirus—the common cold.

– Michael Puskarich, M.D.

Previous research suggests that losartan may be able to block an enzyme that the COVID-19 virus uses to attack cells.

“We’re trying to prevent the lung injury caused by the virus that makes it so deadly,” says Michael Puskarich, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and an emergency physician at Hennepin Healthcare, who coleads the study with Christopher Tignanelli, M.D., assistant professor of critical care and acute care surgery in the Department of Surgery. “We’re trying to turn COVID-19 into an everyday coronavirus — the common cold.”

The inpatient trial is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Accelerator Funds, while the outpatient arm of the trial is funded by the Minnesota Partnership.


The U is also examining the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, an FDA-approved antimalaria drug, in preventing or reversing symptoms of COVID-19. Prior laboratory research has shown that hydroxychloroquine can impede progression of the virus, but recent studies show it carries significant risks for some patients. The U study seeks definitive answers.


U researchers are also participating in a multicenter National Institutes of Health trial to test the drug remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola. The study has had early success in reducing severity for hospitalized COVID-19 patients and is moving into a next phase with a combined antiviral medication therapy.

Cell therapies

Several other studies exploring potential COVID-19 treatments are at various stages of regulatory approval, including a trial looking at the safety and efficacy of natural killer (NK) cell therapy. The clinical trial is designed to replenish patients’ NK cells with off-the-shelf engineered NK cells, restoring patients’ functional immune systems while equipping the cells to directly target the virus. Another trial is exploring whether an infusion of healthy regulatory T cells can prevent inflammation related to acute respiratory distress in severe COVID-19 cases. On another front, U scientists are examining whether mesenchymal stromal cell transplantation could be deployed to treat pneumonia in patients with severe COVID-19, many of whom are in critical care and on a ventilator. 

Published on May 12, 2020