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EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of Covid-19 survivors who suffered lung damage are a ticking time bomb and face a death rate far worse than many cancers, top pulmonary doctor warns

A doctor who has been studying lung disease for 15 years has warned of a looming health crisis that could overshadow the impact of COVID-19 in the long term.
Dr. Sassan Rafi, who has carried out extensive research into crippling pulmonary fibrosis, one of the conditions now linked to acute coronavirus patients, claims thousands of Americans hospitalized with the virus face a ticking time bomb even after they recover from the virus.
The research scientist says that those diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis after weeks on a ventilator face a shocking morbidity rate far worse than many cancers.
This comes as coronavirus infections across the US have been surging after trending down for over six weeks.
Dr. Sassan Rafi says that COVID-19 patients diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis after weeks on a ventilator face a shocking morbidity rate
Dr. Sassan Rafi says that COVID-19 patients diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis after weeks on a ventilator face a shocking morbidity rate
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue is damaged and scarred and is caused by aggressive viruses like COVID-19. A COVID-19 patient is pictured on a ventilator
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue is damaged and scarred and is caused by aggressive viruses like COVID-19. A COVID-19 patient is pictured on a ventilator 

Currently, the US has recorded more than 2.9 million coronavirus cases and more than 130,000 Americans have died from the virus.
New cases and hospitalizations have been spiking to record levels in states like Arizona, Texas, California and Florida.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue is damaged and scarred and is caused by aggressive viruses like COVID-19.
This thickened, stiff tissue makes it more difficult for your lungs to work properly and exchange oxygen and can lead to respiratory failure.

'Pulmonary fibrosis has a prognosis of three years, which is worse than many cancers, and currently there is no optimal treatment,' he explains.
Dr. Rafi, an anesthesiologist and founding Chief Medical Officer of Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc, says that many hospitalized patients, even if they appear to make a full recovery from COVID-19 related illness, could still die due to fibrosis.
Dr. Rafi says that even if a patient survives hospitalization and survives having fluid in their lungs for so many weeks, that can still lead to lingering effects such as fibrosis.
'So what we do is we scan the lungs and if we see fibrosis in the lungs that tells us that their lives may not come back. That's the point of no return,' he said.
'It's a progressive disease, meaning you may be feeling okay, but the fibrosis keeps getting worse and worse and that's one area, no one is addressing.'
The doctor says some patients may have to be dependent on a ventilator for the rest of their lives, while others may need a lung transplant.
Dr. Rafi has been studying pulmonary fibrosis since 2005 while completing his PhD in molecular, cellular and systemic physiology from the University of California at Davis.
Now the entrepreneur's early stage pharmaceutical company Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc, is developing a compound to tackle the condition and they continue to study fibrosis via collaborations with UC Davis, the University of Michigan and others.
Dr. Rafi's partner, CEO of Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Andrew Young (right) says  the 'legacy' and potential magnitude of this looming problem is of great concern
Dr. Rafi's partner, CEO of Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Andrew Young (right) says  the 'legacy' and potential magnitude of this looming problem is of great concern
New cases and hospitalizations have been spiking to record levels in states like Arizona, Texas, California and Florida
New cases and hospitalizations have been spiking to record levels in states like Arizona, Texas, California and Florida
Doctor discusses new COVID blood test and why it's important
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Dr. Rafi asserts that if the government doesn't pay attention to his work and the work of others, then there will be a looming health crisis on the horizon.
'It's not just about who is dying acutely from the virus, it's about what's going to come years and years from now, once the virus has gone,' he said.
Dr. Rafi's partner, CEO of Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Andrew Young, agrees.
He says the 'legacy' and potential magnitude of this looming problem is of great concern.
Mr. Young says that 40% of acute coronavirus patients, according to the latest data, will experience an extreme immune response, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which leads to pulmonary fibrosis
Mr. Young says that 40% of acute coronavirus patients, according to the latest data, will experience an extreme immune response, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which leads to pulmonary fibrosis
Mr. Young says that 40% of acute coronavirus patients, according to the latest data, will experience an extreme immune response, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which leads to pulmonary fibrosis. At least 20% of ARDS cases are severe.
Data from the SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003 also revealed a high percentage of survivors experienced sustained pulmonary fibrosis and diminished lung function.
'It's almost the body's immune system is going nuclear and working to kill everything, which causes scarring and a variety of other problems, particularly very rampant inflammation,' he said.
'And at this point in the crisis, over a hundred thousand people have died of COVID and we believe that the acute patients are in the hundreds of thousands in the first wave.
'I think that the public is beginning to be more and more informed about exactly why COVID is so horrible and damaging and potentially fatal.
'And at the core of that, I think many would argue that fibrosis is really the short and the long term problem that will cause further death and disability.'
Mr Young said his partner's research is focused on a compound that has the potential to interrupt that fibrotic process.
'It can reverse the scarring such that someone can actually have potentially a full recovery,' he said.
Dr. Rafi believes his company is close to developing a wonder drug which will stop pulmonary fibrosis in its tracks - even reversing the damage.
'Our mission is developing medications that target fibrosis and specifically focused on pulmonary fibrosis, which is a devastating disease,' he said.
'The drug is a Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase Inhibitor. Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase (sEH) is an enzyme in the cell that if we go and inhibit it, it has been shown to prevent fibrosis and is also a strong anti-inflammatory.'
The antifibrotic medication is not yet FDA approved, however, and hasn't been given a catchy name yet.
But D.r Rafi says his company has a lot of solid pre-clinical data and data from animal models to push forward.
The firm is also in the process of raising funds to develop the drug further and bring it to clinical trials as soon as possible.
Sadly to achieve FDA approval it will likely take another two to three years.
Upright Pharmaceuticals is in talks with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, and has applied for funding to fast track the medical trials for the drug.
Upright Pharmaceuticals has also partnered with EFFACÉ Aesthetics in Santa Monica to provide rapid COVID-19 anti-body testing to the community. EFFACE is run by beauty entrepreneur Roberta Moradfar (pictured)
Upright Pharmaceuticals has also partnered with EFFACÉ Aesthetics in Santa Monica to provide rapid COVID-19 anti-body testing to the community. EFFACE is run by beauty entrepreneur Roberta Moradfar (pictured) 
A negative rapid COVID-19 test is pictured that was taken at EFFACÉ Aesthetics
A negative rapid COVID-19 test is pictured that was taken at EFFACÉ Aesthetics
'We're hoping that this pandemic can shine a spotlight into what we're doing with this research, because it's not just about COVID-19, what we're developing here has implications beyond COVID-19.,' Dr. Rafi said.
'I don't want to scare people, but I think that we need to get the government to pay attention to drug development and the drugs that can potentially treat a respiratory virus like COVID-19 and its complications. And that's what we were focusing on.
'Given the high numbers of individuals affected by COVID-19, even rare complications will have major health effects at the population level.
'Having a therapeutic may not only prevent long-term or terminal damage to the lungs by ARDS, but may help prolong life after these patients survive hospitalization.'
Upright Pharmaceuticals has also partnered with EFFACÉ Aesthetics in Santa Monica to provide rapid COVID-19 anti-body testing to the community.
Run by beauty entrepreneur Roberta Moradfar, an Advanced Aesthetics Nurse Practitioner and fiancée of Hollywood actor and Bad Boys star Martin Lawrence, the test takes just 15 minutes.
Roberta told DailyMail.com: 'The test will reinforce, I think, continuing to practice safe.
'Social distancing and wearing your mask and washing your hands.
'People should know their status, it's just good to know if you have the COVID antibody or not so that you know how to move along and be safe.'

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