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How researchers are testing COVID-19 drugs for pregnant women

As the race continues to find a universally effective treatment for COVID-19, one group of critical patients is left out of clinical trials.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that pregnant women are at an increased risk of suffering severe COVID-19 illness. Pregnant women are five times more likely to be hospitalized if they contract COVID-19.

“The virus enters via a receptor known as ACE2. And pregnant women, it’s been shown that their lungs actually contain an abundance compared to a normal person,” explained Anup Challa, principal investigator at MADRE, Modeling Adverse Drug Reactions in Embryos.

But treatment can be tricky.

“We don’t have any existing standard of care for pregnant women with COVID-19. We don’t have a drug we can give them. We don’t have clinical trials that we can enroll them in,” Challa said.

At some hospitals, the drug remdesivir has been used to treat pregnant patients with COVID. But there’s a concern that any medication prescribed to the mother could harm the baby.

“It may be important for the patient to deliver,” said Dr. David Aronoff, MD, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Twenty percent of pregnant women with COVID delivered prematurely compared to the national average of 10% before the COVID pandemic started. But by using electronic health records, these researchers are simulating trials for pregnant women to find the best course of treatment without having to deliver.

“We can use high-powered statistics, tools like machine learning to look at cases in which pregnant women have been exposed to drugs either similar to the experimental therapeutics,” Challa said.

They’ve used this method for other health conditions with success.

“Nifedipine, which was already believed to be safe for use in managing high blood pressure in pregnancy, may also be useful in the context of diabetes in pregnancy,” Aronoff said.

But when it comes to COVID-19, any promising information can be a special delivery for both mom and baby.