Two drugs show promise as scientists race to find coronavirus cure

Tuesday February 25 2020

People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu, South Korea, on February 25, 2020 amid the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO | JUNG YEON-JE | AFP

People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu, South Korea, on February 25, 2020 amid the Covid-19 outbreak. As countries beef up disease surveillance and preparedness measures, science is in a race to stop coronavirus on its tracks. PHOTO | JUNG YEON-JE | AFP 

ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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As countries beef up disease surveillance and preparedness measures, science is in a race to stop coronavirus (Covid-19) on its tracks.

From traditional concoctions to research on stem cells and HIV drugs, scientists have been tripping over their heads to stop the spread of the flu-like virus that has so far killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 70,000 others.

Last Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has been leading the coordination of research for potential drugs and vaccines announced that two clinical trials testing potential treatments for the Covid-19 are expected in three weeks.

CLINICAL TRIALS

The expected preliminary results are prioritising the prospects of a drug that combines two HIV drugs, while the other is testing the antiviral manufactured by US-based biotech Gilead Sciences, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday at a news conference at the agency’s headquarters.

“We are looking forward to the results of two clinical trials prioritised by the WHO. One combines two drugs for HIV, lopinavir and ritonavir, while the other is testing the antiviral remdesivir. We expect preliminary results in three weeks,” said Dr Tedros during the Thursday daily briefing.

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Lopinavir and ritonavir belong to a class of drugs known as HIV protease inhibitors used with other HIV medications to help control infection. On the other hand, a new study by the National Institutes of Health scientists has shown that remdesivir, an experimental antiviral that has been found to successfully prevent Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) disease in monkeys.

So far there is no known cure, and doctors are eager to help those with the disease — but scientists caution that only carefully conducted trials will determine which measures work.

FAST-TRACKING WORK

Latest data indicate that the coronavirus epidemic which began in Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million people and the capital of Hubei province in China has infected about 75,750 people and led to 2,130 deaths, according to an online data tracker maintained and updated by the Johns Hopkins Centre for Systems Science and Engineering.

If the virus cannot be controlled, it could affect about two-thirds of the world’s population, a public health expert in Hong Kong said.

Further, the WHO Director-General reiterated the need to raise money to fight the virus that affects the respiratory system.

Two weeks ago, WHO announced that it needs $675 million for preparedness and response of the novel coronavirus in countries considered particularly “at-risk”.

In the meantime, scientists are also working quickly to produce a vaccine candidate to be ready for human clinical trials.

Scientists are also fast-tracking work on a coronavirus vaccine. Typically, making a new vaccine takes a decade or longer. But new genetic technologies and new strategies make researchers optimistic that they can shorten that timetable to months, and possibly weeks — and have a tool by the fall that can slow the spread of infection.

Early in the week Sanofi a French multinational pharmaceutical company joined in the quest for a vaccine after partnering with the US Bio-medical Advanced Research and Development Authority to make a vaccine using the company’s recombinant DNA platform.

Sanofi’s global head of vaccines, David Loew, said the company’s previous work to develop a vaccine for SARS gives it a leg up on this work.

In the UK, the government said it would donate £20 million ($26 million) to help fund the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an organisation founded in 2017 to develop vaccines that can stop future epidemics.