Researchers study potential COVID-19 therapy to head off dangerous immune "storm"

Marc Baranski of Princeton, New Jersey, considered himself in a pretty healthy guy, until early July, when the 55-year-old and is family returned home from a vacation in Florida.

"We all got COVID, one in a row, my wife first, then my daughter, then my son, then me," Baranski says. "Most everyone had the mild symptoms and got better pretty quickly." 

But, Baranski struggled, battling fever, fatigue, and, finally, shortness of breath.

"That's when I decided to go to the emergency room, and it all happened from there," he says.

He spent the two weeks in the hospital, trying to fight the virus, but not gaining any traction.

"The pulmonologist said I was going into a cytokine storm, which, is when your immune system goes into overdrive, and, instead of attacking the virus, it attacks your lungs,” Baranski says.

Emory School of Medicine's infectious disease specialist Dr. Vincent Marconi has seen the same immune system “storm” in other hospitalized coronavirus patients.

He says the virus can overwhelm the immune system, causing it to misfire and start attacking healthy tissue in the lungs and other organs.

"It keeps throwing this signal up: 'Okay! you're not clearing the virus!  Keep going!  Keep going!'" Dr. Marconi explains.  "So, it's revving up this huge engine that's ineffective in doing what it needs to do and instead is causing all this collateral damage."

Marc Baranski was given a series of COVID-19 treatments: the antiviral remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, convalescent plasma, and Vitamins C and D. 

When he failed to show signs of improvement after the first week, his wife Lynn began researching their options.

She found a clinical trial for another potential COVID-19 drug known as lenzilumab.

Researchers are studying whether the anti-inflammatory therapy can head off a cytokine storm in some critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Baranski transferred to another hospital to join the study, where he was given either lenzilumab or a placebo.

"Going through a disease, especially when it's as nasty as this, any and all can help," he says.

In Atlanta, doctors at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University are also studying lenzilumab, using it combining it with the antiviral remdesivir, to see if it can help patients experience that cytokine storm.

"Can we calm down this collateral damage," Dr. Marconi asks. "Can we slow it?  Can we cool it off?"

Marc Baranski isn't sure what helped him.  

Yet, days after he joined the lenzulimab trial, he turned a corner.

Four months later, he says, he just had a checkup and is doing well.

"I have no permanent scarring in my lungs, and almost all of the inflammation is now gone," he says.

To read more about cytokine storm and the lenzilumab clinical trial, visit