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As the world scrambles to find antiviral treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, some scientists are looking ahead to a problem on the horizon: Many Covid-19 survivors will have long-term lung injuries, and medicine has little to offer them.

There’s only scant data on how many patients who recover from Covid-19 are left with long-term fibrosis, or scarring of the lung. But studies on SARS and MERS, relatives of the novel coronavirus, suggest about 30% of patients had signs of fibrotic lung disease months after recovery. And, considering the novel coronavirus has already infected more than 5 million people worldwide, debilitating lung problems could become a global scourge.


PureTech Health, a biotech company in Boston, believes it might have a solution after making some chemical alterations to an older drug that has helped prevent scarring in a different lung disease. The reference treatment, pirfenidone, works by blocking the proteins that lead to fibrosis, but there’s evidence it can also tamp down inflammation. For Covid-19, where lung injury is caused by severe immune reactions, that could be a beneficial combination, said Sakshi Dua, a pulmonologist and professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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