Could Ancient Botanical Therapies Help Treat COVID-19? – Community News
Covid-19

Could Ancient Botanical Therapies Help Treat COVID-19?

A new study assesses whether medicinal mushrooms and Chinese herbs offer therapeutic benefit in the treatment of acute COVID-19 infection. MACH-19 (Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19) — a multicenter study led by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UCLA, in collaboration with the La Jolla Institute for Immunology — is one of the first to explore this specific Integrative medicine approaches using the gold standard of Western medicine: the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Three studies are currently recruiting for between 66 and 80 patients who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and have been quarantined at home with mild to moderate symptoms. Two are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Phase 1 clinical safety studies for investigational compounds for the treatment of acute COVID-19.

Gordon Saxe

Gordon Saxe, MD, PhD, whose research focuses on the use of food as medicine, is the principal investigator of MACH-19 (Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19), a multicenter study led by University of California, San Diego and UCLA.

“Mushroom-Based Product for COVID-19”, which began in December 2020 and is expected to run until December 2022, is testing the safety and feasibility of a 50/50 mixture of the mushroom agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis) and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) in capsule form.

“Chinese Herbal Formula for COVID-19”, which started in July 2021 and is expected to be completed by December 2022, is testing the safety and feasibility of a formulation of 21 Chinese herbs from Taiwan called Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, which is widely used as a COVID-19 cure in China.

“We hope these treatments will reduce the need for hospitalization,” said MACH-19 lead researcher Gordon Saxe, MD, PhD, director of research in the Centers for Integrative Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

According to Saxe, the mushrooms were chosen for their long history of use and recent evidence of immune-boosting and antiviral effects. In a preclinical study, published in March 2019 in Mycology, agarikon was found to inhibit viruses, including influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H5N1) and herpes. Saxe said he believes medicinal mushrooms inhibit virus replication, a theory he plans to test against SARS-CoV-2 in a Phase II trial.

“Mushrooms have the advantage of co-evolving with us,” says Saxe. “So bacteria, viruses and other fungi hunt mushrooms just like they hunt humans. And mushrooms have developed excellent defense mechanisms against those pests, and we believe they can give them to us if we eat them.”

MACH-19’s third ongoing study, “RCT of Mushroom Based Natural Product to Enhance Immun Response to COVID-19 Vaccination”, measures whether the same medicinal mushrooms, given in capsules at the time of initial COVID-19 vaccination, have antibodies and other measures of the immune response. It started in June 2021 and is expected to be completed in June 2022.

Saxe said his team is nearing the launch of a fourth trial, which will look at whether medicinal mushrooms can provide a similar lift to COVID-19 booster shots as an adjuvant, a substance that enhances the immune response.

“Vaccines lead to the production of antibodies that can destroy the virus in the blood,” Saxe said. “Mushrooms can not only increase the number of these antibodies, but also boost T-cell immunity against virally infected cells. In addition, because mushrooms bind to receptors on human immune cells, they can modulate our immunity — boost it in some ways and turn it into calm others, and this property of mushrooms may also reduce vaccine-related side effects.”

Other researchers in the study include Andrew Shubov, MD, director of intramural integrative medicine at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, and Lan Kao, a specialist in clinical Chinese medicine at UCLA. Initial funding for MACH-19 was provided by UC San Diego’s Krupp Endowed Fund.

Natural cures have been used for centuries to treat infectious diseases, said Saxe, who noted that herbs helped Chinese doctors control 300 recorded epidemics, while Greek pharmacologist Pedanius Dioscorides prescribed agarikon 2,300 years ago to treat lung infections.

While Western medicine still believes much of integrative medicine lacks empirical, evidence-based evidence, some of its ideas are gaining wider acceptance, such as acupuncture to treat pain and the herbal extract artemisinin to treat malaria. MACH-19, which emerged as an idea from Saxe at a research conference at the start of the pandemic, offers the opportunity to provide more evidence.

“If we can demonstrate success, it could spark interest to look at other botanical formulas and approaches,” Saxe said.

The first safety data from the studies are expected by the end of this year, with efficacy data within one year. Whatever is found, Saxe said he was happy to receive FDA approval, which he called a sign that the Western scientific mind is broadening.

“Like the population as a whole, in recent years the FDA has become more aware of integrative, complementary medicine and has shown a greater willingness to find ways to study these approaches,” he said. “But they’re still as strict as they are for drugs.”

For more information or to sign up for the MACH-19 trials, visit clinicaltrials.gov and search for “MACH-19.”