In many cases COVID-19 causes only mild symptoms. But when it is deadly and requires patients to use ventilators, the most likely culprit is a disease called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

Research in US medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine showed over 40 per cent of hospitalised individuals develop ARDS.

Of these at least 50 per cent die from the disease. And even when people survive, lungs rarely make a full recovery.

It is more likely to occur in people with a history of smoking and obesity as well as chemotherapy patients.

One small cap trying to tackle the disease is stem cell play Mesoblast (ASX:MSB).

Last week billionaire investor Alex Waislitz expressed high hopes for the company. He said that if Mesoblast was successful in its endeavours it could be “a game changer for the way the whole world deals with the virus.”

READ: Alex Waislitz-backed Mesoblast is seeing if stem cells can help with COVID-19


A cannabis play joins the hunt

Today, cannabis play Impression Healthcare (ASX:IHL) joined in the fight against ARDS. It told shareholders it was developing a therapy combining cannabidiol and hydroxychloroquine (IHL-675A) to treat the disease.

The company says the two compounds in IHL-675A appear to quell the inflammation response to infections generally.

Impression Healthcare is specifically fighting ARDS occurring as a result of sepsis. Sepsis occurs when the body reacts poorly to disease-fighting chemicals being released into the blood stream.

It has launched a provisional patent application with the Australian Patent Office and has engaged Taiwanese pharmaceutical research organisation Eurofins to conduct pre-clinical testing. This will begin once Eurofins receives a CBD import permit.

Subject to pre-clinical success the company has a pharmaceutical development program ready to pursue registration in major markets including the US and Europe.


Will the Americans endorse it?

Hydroxychloroquine is not a new drug, it has been produced for decades and is used to fight malaria.

But a handful of survivors in the US claim it works against COVID-19. A delegation, led by Democrat Representative Karen Whitsett, even met with President Donald Trump earlier this week to boast of its success.

President Trump has controversially claimed his endorsement from a few weeks earlier was the only thing holding the drug back.

The drug has not been clinically proven to work against COVID-19 but it was given Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its own right.

Impression Healthcare relayed advice it received to its shareholders that this new drug could be a candidate for FDA EUA. This would fast-track meetings with the FDA and clinical trials.

As for cannabinoids, these are potent anti-inflammatory agents and have shown to control cytokine production during lung inflammation. Excess cytokine production damages tissues and organs.

Impression Healthcare climbed 8.3 per cent today.