The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a series of studies, known as the $1.15 billion RECOVER project, to explore potential treatments for long COVID. This move comes as millions of patients continue to struggle with the condition, experiencing a range of symptoms, but with limited proven treatments and research.
The RECOVER initiative aims to address the lack of understanding around long COVID, which encompasses around 200 diverse symptoms. Approximately 10% to 30% of individuals who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection are estimated to experience long COVID, although this risk has decreased since the early stages of the pandemic.
The NIH has conducted observational studies on 24,000 patients to identify the most common and burdensome symptoms of long COVID. These findings are now guiding the development of treatment trials. The initial studies will focus on:
- Exploring whether up to 25 days of Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid could alleviate long COVID symptoms. Some believe that live coronavirus or its remnants may remain in the body, triggering the disorder. Paxlovid, typically used within the first five days of COVID-19 infection, is being reevaluated for its potential in long COVID treatment.
- Investigating treatments for cognitive problems, including “brain fog.” This includes evaluating Posit Science Corp.’s BrainHQ cognitive training program, PASC-Cognitive Recovery by Mount Sinai Health System, and a Soterix Medical device that stimulates brain circuits electrically.
In the coming months, two additional studies will be launched to address sleep problems and issues with the autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious functions such as breathing and heartbeat.
NIH is also planning a study on exercise intolerance and fatigue, although it has sought input from patient groups concerned about potential harm from exercise for certain long COVID sufferers.
The trials will enroll 300 to 900 adult participants initially but have the potential to expand. They follow a flexible “platform studies” approach, allowing the addition of new potential therapies on a rolling basis and the ability to drop ineffective treatments while maintaining the trial.
Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a Harvard researcher who has studied chronic fatigue syndrome or ME/CFS, highlights the importance of flexibility in such studies, allowing researchers to adjust treatment courses based on early findings rather than starting from scratch.
While some patients have expressed frustration with the wait for treatment trials, NIH has waited for clues about the underlying biology of long COVID before proceeding, ensuring they have specific targets to study. Overall, the RECOVER project represents a significant step towards understanding and treating long COVID, providing hope for patients seeking relief from this mysterious and debilitating condition.