Syracuse Lab Studying Drug that May Prevent Coronavirus Spread in Senior Homes

Loretto, Clarity Clinical Research team up to test new drug to prevent coronavirus among seniors

By Payne Horning

Clarity Clinical Research, a research laboratory in East Syracuse, is one of only two sites in New York state now studying a drug which has shown some potential for inhibiting the spread of viruses, to see if it could contain coronavirus outbreaks at long-term care facilities. The drug at the center of the trial,

Nitazoxinide, is something that Lisa Sonneborn with Clarity says their team is optimistic about.

“One of the very interesting things about the treatment is that when they first evaluated it with regards to COVID-19, they were finding it was inhibiting the replication of the coronavirus in cell cultures — and not just COVID-19; it’s also inhibited replication of SARS and MERS and other coronaviruses, including influenza,” Sonneborn said. “It was that information that prompted the attempt to do this with participants in long-term care facilities because of those positive results that suggested it could be really beneficial.”

For the study, Clarity is partnering with Loretto, a comprehensive continuing healthcare organization that provides services for older adults in Central New York.

Willing participants at four of Loretto’s assisted living facilities in the region will be administered a drug twice a day for six weeks once one of their fellow residents tests positive for COVID-19. Clarity researchers have a good idea of who will be a good candidate for the study thanks to all of the background information that’s available on nitazoxinide. The drug has been studied numerous times before and is an FDA-approved treatment used by an estimated 400 million people for acute viral respiratory illnesses.

Loretto and Clarity have previously teamed up for other studies affecting older adults, focusing on diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. It was that partnership that Sonneborn said made this COVID-19 study possible.

“One of the things that is very rare in clinical trials is to see the collaboration between a clinical research facility and something like a long-term care facility,” Sonneborn said. “That structure doesn’t often exist or doesn’t exist in abundance throughout the United States. So, what made us very unique was not only our previous collaborative relationship with Loretto, but the speed at which we were able to work together to adapt both our clinic and staff and their facilities and staff to make this happen.”

With its easy transmission and high risk of mortality for older Americans and those with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 has ravaged some of the nation’s nursing homes. Nearly half of Onondaga County’s deaths from the pandemic came from nursing home residents. Loretto Chief Marketing Officer Julie Sheedy said while the loss of life for their residents has been minimal compared to some of the other homes in the area, they were eager to sign up for this trial.

“If we don’t have a vaccine, we need other ways to keep it out; something like this can be really beneficial to facilities to make sure they can keep control of the virus and keep it out of their facilities,” Sheedy said. “Anything we can do collectively for the community and our residents to protect them from this is really core to our mission.”

The team at Clarity hopes to enroll as many of Loretto’s residents who are medically able and willing to participate, but they first have to wait for someone at a facility to contract the virus. As for getting something to market, Sonneborn said the timeline in these studies varies greatly due to the many variables involved. However, she notes that this is the fastest the lab has ever started any clinical trial and she says they plan to do whatever they can to move the research forward as quickly as possible.

Photo: Lisa Sonneborn, a researcher at Clarity Clinical Research in East Syracuse, is working on a trial to test the efficacy the drug nitazoxinide.