4 Potential Drug Treatment Options to Battle COVID-19
Last December, stories started surfacing of a new virus affecting the Chinese city of Wuhan. At the epicenter of the outbreak, Chinese officials started building new hospitals to aid the people in need. What started out as something that looked like a flu epidemic, soon escalated into a full-blown pandemic, called the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
As numbers of infected people are on the rise, the impact on people’s lives continues to grow, beyond anything most of us have ever witnessed in our lives. Social distancing and thorough handwashing seem to be the primary action humans need to abide by in order to slow down the spreading of the virus.
On the 19th of March, US President Trump announced three promising drug treatments to battle the Coronavirus. Two of them, Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine have been approved by the FDA to start clinical trials on treating the Coronavirus. The other is Regeneron, a drug that has previously been used to successfully treat people infected with the Ebola virus.
World Health Organization (WHO) Senior Advisor, Bruce Aylward, stated, ‘There’s only one drug right now that we think will have real efficacy, and that’s Remdesivir’.
Two US companies, Nurx and Everlywell (starting the 23rd of March) have started the process of rolling out home COVID-19 tests. The Nurx one is projected to cost around $181 while Everlywell sells them for $135. The initial supply is low, but they project to be able to scale up manufacturing soon. Nurx will be selling their supply each morning, Monday through Saturday, at 7 AM PST, until stocks run out.
I would like to emphasize that I am not an expert in this field, all the information stated in this article is based on reliable sources (official government or national health authorities), field experts like virologists and research papers on the topic. At least until March 20th, there was not yet any proven antidote against the coronavirus.
As a medicine used to treat malaria, chloroquine, has been discovered in 1934, by Hans Andersag, but it has been abandoned for decades as it was too toxic to prescribe to humans. Back in 2004, when the SARS epidemic arose, researchers from KU Leuven lab-tested chloroquine as anti-virus and it worked. When the time came to test real-life patients the virus had stopped spreading, so there were no people left to include in the clinical trial.
Chinese researchers notice quicker recoveries and milder symptoms in COVID19 patients that were given chloroquine.
Researchers of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in The Netherlands, are testing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a means to battle the coronavirus. Paul Hagedoorn and Erik Frijlink from the Rijksuniversiteit are working on cultivating the medicine so it can be used with an inhaler. This way, the medicine directly targets the right place, namely the lungs.
The only manufacturer of chloroquine located in the US (New Jersey), Rising Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of Chloroquine in January by 100%, amidst the increasing amount of people that got infected with the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine, or better known as Plaquenil (brand name), is a working substance used to prevent and treat malaria. It is also widely available to treat auto-immune diseases and rheumatic arthritis. While chloroquine can be highly toxic, an overdose can result in poisoning or death, hydroxychloroquine is about 40% less toxic.
A recent clinical trial, in France, shows positive results with patients that were administered hydroxychloroquine as a treatment to COVID-19. The preliminary results look promising, although the trial group was very small (20 patients in the treatment group, 16 in the control group). In the treatment group, 6 patients were administered hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin. Within 5 days all 6 patients tested negative on the coronavirus. The treatment group patients that solely received hydroxychloroquine had a 50% decrease in positive testing for COVID-19 after 6 days. Almost 90% of patients in the control group still tested positive for COVID-19 after 6 days. In this Tweet, by @AppleHelix you can see the difference between groups very clear.
Regeneron and Sanofi
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi are working on getting Kevzara approved to be a treatment option for the novel coronavirus. Kevzara is officially a drug that is being used to treat rheumatic arthritis. The clinical trial will research the effect Kevzara has on reducing inflammation in the lungs. This isn’t the only COVID-19 related trial they have planned.
Scientists at Regeneron are testing on mice that have been genetically modified to have a working human immune system. The company aims to start clinical trials by early summer. The trial consists of a multi-antibody cocktail to be administered to people to treat the coronavirus either before or after infection.
In the state of Nebraska, a clinical trial has started on the 25th of February, using remdesivir as a drug to fight the coronavirus. remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc, is a broad-spectrum antiviral treatment. Initially, they wanted to get the drug approved as a cure to Ebola.
Remdesivir has not been officially approved by any national health organization yet, but the manufacturer is working closely with various organizations to start clinical testing on COVID-19 patients. In the past, remdesivir has been successfully tested on rats, as a working antivirus against SARS and MERS infections. According to its website, Gilead Sciences has eight locations in the US.
On March 17th remdesivir has been officially approved as a drug to treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms in the Czech Republic.
After doing the research, I must say I am surprised by the overall abilities to use existing medications to treat the coronavirus. The research that has been previously done on anti-virus drugs to treat SARS and MERS, can be further built upon with coronavirus patients after approval from the proper authorities. However, most treatments are for faster recovery and/or reducing the symptoms, instead of preventing COVID-19.
Besides the four drugs discussed in this article, there are also other promising anti-virus medicine that are being tested at the moment. In China, COVID-19 patients show positive results after using favipiravir, in a clinical trial. Favipiravir (developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm) is used in Japan as a treatment against the flu. Patients that took part in the trial recovered sooner from the coronavirus (after 4 days median, in oppose to 11 days, without favipiravir). Their X-rays also showed improvement in lung conditions with over 90% of clinical trial participants. Innovio Pharmaceuticals starts a clinical trial, on a new coronavirus vaccine, at the end of April.
When I check out the country-wide guidelines in my home country on how to treat COVID-19, I noticed that patients can request to be treated with chloroquine, remdesivir or hydroxychloroquine, but only if they sign a waiver stating the caregivers are not at fault when the patients’ situation decreases. They further state that the drugs have not been tested properly on people with the coronavirus, so it is no official treatment drug yet.
I hope clinical testing with the previously mentioned drugs will have a positive effect on COVID-19 patients. I applaud national health organizations for stepping up to the plate and working around the clock to get clinical trials approved as soon as possible. Hopefully, a drug treatment will be approved and the medicine will be available at a reasonable cost for everyone.
Some interesting reads about clinical trials related to treating COVID-19 patients:
Covid-19 Small Molecule Therapies Reviewed
Update: for clinical trial results as of March 18 on some of these, see here). Let's take inventory on the therapies…
Clinical studies complete for coronavirus drug
Chinese researchers have completed clinical studies of favipiravir, which has shown promising clinical application in…
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