Novel blood filter approved by FDA for emergency treatment of COVID-19

The FDA has approved a novel blood filter for the emergency treatment of COVID-19. The filter, which targets a potentially fatal immune response, has shown promise in preliminary studies, according to researchers. The company that developed the technology, CytoSorbents Inc., was supported by NHLBI.

In some critical cases of COVID-19, patients develop a severe immune response that can overwhelm the body’s defenses, resulting in death if untreated. The deadly immune response results from an increase in cytokines, proteins produced by immune system that normally mediate an inflammatory response to viral invaders, including the virus that causes COVID-19. 

The new device, called CytoSorb, targets this deadly “cytokine storm” that can damage vital organs such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys. It is essentially a blood purification cartridge containing porous polymer beads that remove cytokines from the blood in a process like dialysis. Some have called it a “Brita filter for your blood.” The filter aims to reduce excessively high levels of cytokines while leaving enough of the proteins to still enable the body to fight infection.

CytoSorb has been used in more than 70 critically-ill COVID-19 patients in Italy, China, Germany, and France, with promising results in terms of controlling the cytokine storm and improving lung function that has helped patients get off of mechanical ventilation, according to the device manufacturer. It could appear in U.S. hospitals soon, they said.

“We’re excited to see this new technology, whose development involved NHLBI support, advance toward clinical use against COVID-19,” said Margaret Ochocinska, Ph.D., an NHLBI Program Officer involved in funding the development of the device and Program Director in the NHLBI Division of Blood Diseases and Resources. “We hope that it will prove useful in fighting this devastating disease.”