New drug could halve COVID recovery time

Australian researchers will trial an antiviral medication that could clear out COVID-19 more quickly and help people recover from the illness.

Favipiravir is an antiviral medication originally developed to treat people with influenza. It also works by preventing certain viruses from replicating. Earlier this year, it was approved as an experimental treatment for COVID-19 infections.

Favipiravir’s application in relation to COVID-19 is being studied in multiple countries including the United States and Japan, and now in Australia.

Now, researchers from The Alfred and Monash University will start the VIRCO trial – testing the drug on symptomatic people with COVID-19 in the first five days of diagnosis – to see if it can be used as a COVID-19 treatment.

“We think this could work for COVID-19,” said lead researcher and infectious diseases specialist Dr James McMahon.

“There were two smaller trials in China which showed that Favipiravir cleared the virus more quickly and people with less severe infection recovered more quickly.

“These studies were in a small number of people, so it needs to be studied further in a placebo controlled study. This means half the people get the drug and half get a sugar pill or placebo, so it is a rigorous way of working out whether this drug helps people clear the virus and recover more quickly.”

The drug has already been given to thousands of people safely in trials studying other viral infections before COVID-19, he added.

“This is why we think it is an excellent candidate to study not only for people in hospitals but also people in their homes with COVID-19. The study staff will closely monitor people while they are on the trial.”

Successful international trials indicate the drug could halve the recovery time for patients.

It works by stopping the virus and preventing it replicating itself inside human cells.

Through use of the drug, it is estimated patients could get over the virus in four days compared to the average 11 days.

Another trial found the drug shortened fever duration from an average of 4.2 days to 2.5 days.

It was also used as emergency aid to treat Ebola patients in Guinea and the fatality rate among the 73 patients treated with the drug (42.5 per cent) was lower than that in untreated patients (57.8 per cent), according to The Daily Telegraph.

The original trials and experiments were performed on only a small number of people. The VIRCO trial aims to test 190 volunteers in Melbourne.

“If it did have an effect, you would hope it would have an effect in days,” said Dr McMahon.

The drug could also help to reduce the amount of virus infected people are shedding, and slow the spread of infection through the community, said Dr McMahon.

The company that developed the drug – sold under the brand name Avigan – has stockpiled two million doses in defence of a new strain of influenza pandemic.

Do you think it more likely we will find effective treatments instead of a vaccine?

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