Fighting the Host Reaction to SARS-COv-2 in Critically Ill Patients: The Possible Contribution of Off-Label Drugs

Front Immunol. 2020 May 27:11:1201. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.01201. eCollection 2020.


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COv-2) is the etiologic agent of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID19). The majority of infected people presents flu like symptoms and among them 15-20% develops a severe interstitial pneumonitis (IP) that may eventually evolve in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). IP is caused by the viral glycoprotein spike (S) binding to the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) expressed on the surface of alveolar pneumocytes. The virus is recognized by the "pattern recognition receptors" (PRR) of the immune cells that release cytokines activating more immune cells that produce a large number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, tissue factors and vasoactive peptides. Affected patients might develop the "cytokine storm syndrome," a fulminant and fatal hypercytokinaemia with multiorgan failure. In patients infected by SARS-COv-2 increase in T-helper 2 (TH2) cytokines (IL-4 and IL10) are reported in addition to the T-helper 1 (TH1) cytokines (IL1B, IFNγ, IP10, and MCP1) previously detected in other coronavirus infections. Cytokines and other molecules involved in immune response and inflammation are conceivable therapeutic targets for IP and ARDS, improving symptoms and decreasing intensive care unit admissions. To this aim off label drugs may be used taking into consideration the window timing for immunosuppressive drugs in virus infected patients. Some off label therapeutic options and preclinical evidence drugs are herein considered.

Keywords: cytokine; inflammation; interstitial pneumonia; macrophages; offlabel drug use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Critical Illness
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Humans
  • Off-Label Use*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines