A clinical trial led by the Washington University School of Medicine in the US has found that a drug made of interleukin-7 (IL-7) boosts the body’s immune system and can potentially help treating sepsis.

Sepsis leads to 250,000 deaths a year in the US and is commonly treated using antibiotics and inflammatory drugs that ‘tamp down’ the immune system.

The IL-7-based drug has been found to increase the proliferation and survival of CD4 and CD8 immune cells that are known to gather other immune cells against severe infections.

The drug was tested in 27 hospitalised, severely ill patients aged 33-88 years at two clinical sites each in the US and France.

“We think this approach can make a big difference.”

An improved immune response with three to four times increase in CD4 and CD8 counts was observed in the patient arm treated with the experimental drug.

Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis senior investigator Richard Hotchkiss said: “We know that 40% of patients die in the 30 to 90 day period after the initial septic infection.

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“Their bodies can’t fight secondary infections such as the blood infections and staph infections that can develop later on because their immune systems are shot.

“By strengthening adaptive immunity with IL-7 and increasing the numbers of CD4 and CD8 cells available to help fight infections, we think this approach can make a big difference.”

The researchers are planning to further investigate their findings in a larger trial with 300 to 400 sepsis patients to validate if IL-7 could improve survival rates.