While we wait for a coronavirus vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a global trial of drugs that could be used to treat those who already have COVID-19.
Here are five possible coronavirus treatments that WHO has been investigating.
Remdesivir is the frontrunner in the trial. It was originally developed by
US biotechnology company Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola. It inhibits an
enzyme called ‘RNA-dependent RNA polymerase’ that viruses need to
A study in 2017 showed that it can inhibit the SARS and MERS
coronaviruses. The first COVID-19 patient in the US was given remdesivir
when his condition deteriorated, and a case report in the New England
Journal Of Medicine said that his condition improved the next day.
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are two drugs usually used to treat
malaria and, among other conditions, rheumatoid arthritis. There have
been reports from China that chloroquine was an effective treatment for
COVID-19, and a trial of hydroxychloroquine in France showed it reduced
numbers of the virus in nasal swabs.
But many virologists are being cautious, pointing out that
hydroxychloroquine has been studied as an antiviral for years, but trials
have not worked out.
In fact, WHO’s test of hydroxychloroquine has been halted following a
paper published in The Lancet which found that the drug was linked to an
Read more about COVID-19 :
Ritonavir and lopinavir is a combination drug – both are given together –
and it’s already used to treat HIV infections. It works by blocking a type of
enzyme called a protease, which is used when new viruses are being
built. It’s known to work with other viruses, too – including coronaviruses.
A trial in Wuhan, China, didn’t fare well, with the patients not doing any
better than those not given the drugs. But the doctors involved said that
the patients given the drug may have been too ill to benefit.
One blend of medicine combines the antiviral HIV drugs, ritonavir and
lopinavir, with interferon beta, a protein which regulates inflammation in
the body and is used to treat multiple sclerosis.
This combination is already being tested in a trial in Saudi Arabia as a
treatment for the coronavirus that causes MERS. A separate trial,
involving University of Southampton researchers, is testing interferon
beta on its own in COVID-19 hospital patients in the UK.
Read more about the coronavirus pandemic :
While not part of the WHO trial, the idea behind convalescent serum is
People who have recovered from COVID-19 will have produced
antibodies to fight off the virus. So why not take some of their blood,
separate off the plasma that includes the antibodies, and inject it into
COVID-19 patients ?
Convalescent serum has already been used to treat SARS and MERS. The
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a trial against
COVID-19 at dozens of hospitals across the US.
Andy is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of
the West of England in Bristol, Programme Leader of the MSc in Science
Communication and an award-winning journalist
THE LANCET : Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis