The race to produce an effective treatment for COVID-19 pneumonia continues across the globe, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) reporting that four promising antiviral drugs have entered trial stage.
The WHO said on Wednesday that it had enlisted 10 countries to test four key drugs to ascertain if any could reliably reduce mortality from COVID-19.
“The acceleration of this process is really, truly dramatic in terms of what we’re able to do, building on work that started with SARS, that started with MERS, and now is being used for COVID-19,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s emergencies program.
China has already sanctioned the widespread use of a repurposed flu drug that Beijing says is “clearly effective”.
One of the four drugs being tested, remdesivir, reportedly saved the life of a gravely ill woman with COVID-19. She is now doing well, according to a report in Science.
The US Federal Drug Administration has approved the use of two drugs that are yet to undergo completed clinical trials – remdesivir and a generic anti-malaria pill, chloroquine (developed more than 70 years ago) – for ‘compassionate use’ only, that is, only for people who appear to be dying from COVID-19. Wider approval is dependent on large-scale trials, but placebo-controlled trials are under way in China and the US.
Remdesivir cripples an enzyme called RNA polymerase that is used by many viruses to copy themselves; chloroquine interferes with the coronavirus’s ability to replicate.
Livescience.com reports that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration “for the treatment of malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but preliminary research in human and primate cells suggests that the drugs could effectively treat COVID-19”.
Live Science also says a drug developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical in Japan is showing promise in treating at least mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
The antiviral drug, Favipiravir or Avigan, has been used in Japan to treat influenza, and last month was approved as an experimental treatment for COVID-19 infections and tested in 340 individuals in Wuhan and Shenzhen.
“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” said Zhang Xinmin, of China’s science and technology ministry.
This drug also works by preventing certain viruses from replicating.
For some patients with COVID-19, the virus itself doesn’t do the worst damage, rather the immune system goes into overdrive and launches an all-out assault that can damage tissue and ultimately kill people.
Doctors are trying an immunosuppressant known as Actemra, or tocilizumab, which is approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Pharmaceutical company Roche is investigating if tocilizumab could improve outcomes in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia.
Regeneron is enrolling patients in a clinical trial to test another IL-6 inhibitor, known as sarilumab (kevzara), for treating COVID-19 pneumonia.
The University of Minnesota has launched two clinical trials using the inexpensive generic blood pressure drug, losartan. The first would evaluate whether losartan can prevent multi-organ failure in those hospitalised with COVID-19 pneumonia. The second would evaluate if the drug can prevent hospitalisations in the first place, Reuters reports.
Are you following the trials? Are you amazed at how quickly clinical trials can begin?
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