Scientists have identified 16 new genetic variations in people who developed COVID-19 in a large study that could help researchers develop treatments for severely infected patients.
The findings suggest that people with severe COVID have genes that predispose them to one of two problems: a failure to limit the virus’s ability to make copies of itself, or excessive inflammation and blood clotting.
Scientists said their discoveries, Published in the journal Nature On Monday, it can help prioritize potential treatments that could work against the disease.
Ultimately, the information can help predict which patients are likely to develop severe disease.
“It is likely in the future that we will be able to make predictions about patients based on their genomes at the point of presentation [for] Kenneth Bailey, a consultant in critical care medicine at the University of Edinburgh and one of the study’s authors, told reporters.
Genetic analysis of nearly 56,000 samples from people in Britain showed differences in 23 genes in critically ill COVID-19 patients, compared to the DNA of other groups included in the study, including 16 previously unidentified differences.
The results may guide the search for usable drugs
The new findings could help guide scientists in their search for current drugs that may be useful in treating COVID-19.
For example, researchers have found changes in key genes that regulate the level of factor VIII, a protein involved in the formation of blood clots.
“Blood clots are one of the main reasons why COVID patients are deficient in oxygen. So it’s probably a target to prevent these clots from forming,” Bailey said.
But “we can’t know if these drugs will work until we try them in humans.”
One previously discovered gene, TYK2, is targeted by Eli Lilly’s drug baricitinib, which is now being studied as a treatment for COVID-19.
The drug was shown last week to reduce the risk of death and hospitalization in COVID-19 patients by 13 percent in a trial.