Patients with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis who take a biologic treatment such as dupilumab seem to be protected from developing serious complications of COVID-19 and are also less likely to be hospitalized due to complications.

Now, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on behalf of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) to study the immune responses of these patients in the setting of COVID-19 infection.

This two-year award is an addition to a seven-year grant also awarded by the NIH/NIAID to study mechanisms leading to variations in atopic dermatitis phenotypes. The total grant amounts to more than $2 million.

The study will aim to understand whether systemic medications and biologics, such as dupilumab may have a positive or negative impact on COVID-19 responses in patients who have the disease.

“This research project has the potential to directly impact the medical care of tens of thousands of patients in the United States with atopic dermatitis on systemic medications in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing morbidity and mortality, particularly in populations disproportionately affected, such as African Americans,” says Emma Guttman-Yassky, MD, PhD, Sol and Clara Kest Professor of Dermatology and Vice Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and grant recipient, in a news release.

According to Dr. Guttman-Yassky, ethnic populations including African Americans are more affected by severe atopic dermatitis/eczema and also have a higher prevalence of asthma along with other risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension.

Dr. Guttman-Yassky hopes the study will help to determine whether systemic treatments, including specific monoclonal antibodies impact responses to COVID-19 infection, and whether some of these treatments can protect from deleterious COVID-19 effects.

“Understanding these immune responses in the presence of patients with atopic dermatitis is extremely important as it will help to guide how we treat patients with COVID-19 during this very critical period and help provide a possible new treatment directed towards this virus,” she says.

Mount Sinai’s dermatology practices have more than 1,200 moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis patients who are taking dupilumab. And while the data is still preliminary, according to Dr. Guttman-Yassky, no patients have been reported in her practice as being hospitalized with COVID-19, although many have been exposed to the disease.

With such a large database of Mount Sinai patients with atopic dermatitis, Dr. Guttman-Yassky also hopes to determine ethnic differences in mounting COVID-19 responses in the setting of systemic and biologic treatments. 

“Having a better understanding of differential immune responses mounted to COVID-19 may offer a basis for evaluating additional therapeutic approaches for this disease and other infections,” she says.