By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With the growing number of COVID-19 cases, there’s a big push to find better treatments, which has involved a lot of trial and error. Researchers at Penn Medicine are playing a key part in figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

At the heart of the CORONA Project is a doctor who discovered an unknown treatment for his own rare disease, and he now hopes to do the same with COVID-19.

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“This is the list of drugs that look most promising,” Penn Medicine Dr. David Fajgenbaum said.

Dr. Fajgenbaum and his research team at Penn Medicine have a database of 500 drugs used to treat COVID-19. They’re all repurposed, originally developed for something else.

“We’ve reviewed over 29,000 published papers, data on over 270,000 patients,” Dr. Fajgenbaum said.

The CORONA Project database is an analytical review of what works and when. It’s used by doctors to calculate COVID treatments and helps the government determine what to research.

“Lots of drug were being tried, like Hydroxychloroquine, now Ivermectin for COVID,” Dr. Fajgenbaum said.

He says those two are among many treatments that don’t work as well as others.

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For Dr. Fajgenbaum it’s personal. He discovered a treatment for a rare disease he has and now he’s applying the same strategy to the coronavirus.

“I have a disease called Castleman disease which involves the immune system getting out of control in many ways similar to COVID,” Dr. Fajgenbaum said.

The disease nearly killed him several times until he found a treatment that worked — a journey he chronicles in his memoir “Chasing My Cure.”

“I’m alive today because of a drug that no one even thought about for my disease that I decided to repurpose and test on myself,” Dr. Fajgenbaum said.

He’s now seven years in remission. Before COVID, his team researched potential treatments for other diseases.

“Given that I’m alive because of a repurposed drug, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to try to figure out what other drugs that are already out there that might actually be treatments or cures,” Dr. Fajgenbaum said.

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Dr. Fajgenbaum says vaccines are clearly the best way to prevent COVID. For treatments, he thinks they’ll continue to improve and be more targeted to the different stages of the virus.

Stephanie Stahl