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CUHK synbiotic formula hastens COVID-19 recovery when added to SoC

Christina Lau
23 Nov 2020
From left: Dr Joyce Mak, Prof Siew Ng, Prof Francis Chan

A synbiotic formula developed by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is shown to hasten recovery and increase the production of neutralizing antibodies in hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The formula, developed based on big data and metagenomic analyses of the gut microbiome of COVID-19 patients and healthy individuals in Hong Kong, is recently evaluated in 55 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at the Prince of Wales Hospital between August and October 2020.

“The microbiome immunity formula, administered for 28 days in combination with standard of care [SoC] in 25 patients, resulted in complete resolution of symptoms in all patients at week 2. In the control group of 30 patients who received SoC, only 52 percent achieved complete symptom resolution at week 2,” reported investigator Professor Siew Ng of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research, CUHK.

At week 1, the rate of complete symptom resolution was 64 percent vs 10 percent in the synbiotic vs control group.

“Notably, 88 percent of patients who received the microbiome immunity formula developed neutralizing antibodies against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 [SARS-CoV-2] within 16 days, compared with 63 percent in the control group,” pointed out Ng.

Blood tests showed that more patients in the synbiotic vs control group achieved significant increases in immune markers and reductions in proinflammatory markers, she added.

In addition, significant increases in levels of favourable bacteria were observed in stool samples of patients in the synbiotic group, but not those in the control group. “This suggests that the microbiome immunity formula could restore gut dysbiosis,” said Ng.

Patients in the study had blood and stool samples collected from hospital admission until week 5 for analysis. According to Ng, baseline characteristics were similar between the synbiotic and control groups (age, 39–59 vs 30–56 years; male, 56 percent vs 30 percent; recent contact with COVID-19 cases, 72 percent vs 63 percent; disease severity at hospital admission, 64 percent vs 70 percent mild, 32 vs 27 percent moderate, 4 percent vs 3 percent severe).

“In another recent study involving 940 individuals aged 18–83 years [male, 47 percent] in the general population of Hong Kong, we found moderate or severe gut dysbiosis in 26 percent and 11 percent of the individuals, respectively. Their gut dysbiosis was comparable to that observed in COVID-19 patients, and is an important marker of impaired immunity,” she said.

“This finding is alarming,” said Professor Francis Chan, Dean of Faculty of Medicine, CUHK. “The unique microbiome immunity formula we developed has the potential to boost immunity of the general public, and is being evaluated in a large-scale study in healthy individuals. Patent application is underway for the formula, which will hopefully become available in the market later this year.”

“Our earlier study showed that patients with COVID-19 had significant gut dysbiosis that persisted even after viral clearance and hospital discharge. The severity of gut dysbiosis was correlated with the severity of COVID-19 symptoms,” said Dr Joyce Mak of the Department of Medicine, CUHK. [Gastroenterology 2020, doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.05.048]

“Based on microbiome profile data, we believe that the microbiome immunity formula will also be able to boost immunity and improve gut dysbiosis in individuals of other Asian ethnicities,” Ng suggested.

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