By Michael Erman and Axel Threlfall

(Reuters) – Biotechnology company Roivant Sciences is beginning to give U.S. COVID-19 patients its experimental drug gimsilumab in a clinical trial on Wednesday, Chief Executive Vivek Ramaswamy said at a Reuters Events pharmaceutical conference.

“It’s rolling out imminently,” Ramaswamy, the privately held company’s founder, said in a video interview.

The drug targets a protein called granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF). Ramaswamy said Chinese data suggests that some patients with COVID-19 – particularly those in intensive care – see an increase of GM-CSF, which belongs to a class of proteins called cytokines.

If effective, the drug could help regulate an overreaction to the virus by the body’s immune system called a cytokine storm, which may be triggering the respiratory distress seen in severe COVID-19 cases.

“We felt that the responsible thing to do, given the public health crisis, was to do our part in getting quickly an answer of whether inhibiting this cytokine would be able to actually make a difference,” Ramaswamy said.

Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Co owns a 10% stake in Roivant.

(Reporting by Michael Erman and Axel Threlfall; Editing by Leslie Adler)