SINCE the global outbreak of the deadly coronavirus after it first emerged in China, there has been a frenzied quest across the global biotech industry, pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to develop drugs to treat the disease.
The scramble for a “magic bullet” drug that would provide a cure for the highly contagious virus, has put researchers on frenzy.
On Sunday night, a team of scientists drew up a list of possible drugs that may be effective in treating coronavirus.
Some of the drugs are currently used to treat other diseases, and repurposing them to treat Covid-19, the ailment caused by the coronavirus, may prove to be faster than trying to invent a new antiviral from scratch, the scientists said.
The list of drugs was revealed in their study published on the website bioRxiv, though the drugs are all in the clinical trial stages.
Drugs such as haloperidol used to treat schizophrenia, and metformin, taken by people with Type 2 diabetes are also been tested.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 235,000 globally and killed over 9,800 people, continues to trigger anxiety across several countries whose health care systems face the threat of being overwhelmed by the numbers of severe cases of COVID-19.
The ICIR examines the possible drugs been considered by scientists for treating the dreaded coronavirus and its associated complications.
Chloroquine has been much in the news after it was announced by President Donald Trump of the UnitedS in a press briefing that chloroquine use may be the solution to the virus.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NAID, followed the president’s remarks with a warning that there was only “anecdotal evidence” that chloroquine might work.
Chinese researchers had used chloroquine to treat infected patients in guidelines issued in February after seeing encouraging results in clinical trials.
However, within days doctors and health officials warned about the drug’s lethal side effects and rolled back its usage.
Chloroquine kills the single-cell parasite that causes malaria. It is believed the drug can attach to a human cellular protein called the sigma-1 receptor. And that receptor is also the target of the coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation, WHO has also announced that chloroquine was among the four drugs being tested as potential coronavirus therapies, a part of an aggressive effort to jumpstart the global search for drugs to treat Covid-19.
Countries are already signed up to participate in the clinical trial include Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand.
The experimental drug has been touted as a possible cure for the virus after it was used to improve the clinical condition of the first patient infected by the coronavirus in the US.
The FDA has already allowed 250 patients to access the drug, the study states that Remdesivir is not expected to be largely available for treating a very large number of patients in a timely manner” because of its status as an experimental drug.
Health officials from WHO has noted that Gilead Sciences Inc, the makers of Remdesivir has demonstrated efficacy in treating the coronavirus infection.
Gilead Sciences Inc recently revealed that it was temporarily putting new emergency access to the experimental coronavirus drug due to surging demand because it wanted people receiving the drug to participate in a clinical trial to prove if it is safe and effective.
The drug is currently used for rheumatoid arthritis. It was developed by Roche’s Chugai Pharmaceutical unit and also employed to suppress cytokine release syndrome in cancer patients. Cytokine release syndrome is a hyper-reaction of the immune system, which is also found in patients with COVID-19.
However, Roche is launching a Phase III trial of Actemra plus standard-of-care patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. After treatment, patients in the trial will be followed for 60 days and an interim analysis will be performed in hopes of early evidence of efficacy. It is expected to begin enrolling patients in April.
The National Medical Products Administration of China approved the use of Favilavir, an anti-viral drug, as a treatment for coronavirus. The drug has reportedly being considered effective in treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial involving 70 patients. The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
It is being tested against coronavirus infection in a first-in-human clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIAID, it was used for 48 patients and its safety and tolerability is being studied.
Kevzara is approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and is known to block the interleukin-6 (IL-6) pathway, which causes an overactive inflammatory response in the lungs of COVID-19 patients.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has partnered with Sanofi, a French drug firm to evaluate Kevzara, a fully-human monoclonal antibody, in phase II/III clinical trial in patients with severe COVID-19 infection.
The biotech companies co-developed Kevzara, which received FDA approval in 2017.
Interferon Alfa 2b
A drug developed by Cuban’s biotech industry, Interferon alfa 2b, is known to boost the immune system and has proved effective in previous epidemics such as dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, was among the treatments used by Chinese medical authorities to curtail the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Several countries namely Chile and Spain, have made attempts to get access to the drug. Also with supplies of Interferon alfa 2b, a team of Cuban doctors has reportedly being sent to Italy to support medical efforts in Italy.
It is used to provide a boosting agent, and in combination with other antiretrovirals, for the treatment of HIV-1, the drug is a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir.
Lopinavir/ritonavir in combination with ribavirin showed reduced fatality rate and milder disease course during an open clinical trial in patients in the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Kaletra’s was being tested for its ability to cut viral load, which was critical because the drug was meant to directly attack the virus rather than merely relieving symptoms od COVID – 19.
However, the chances are now slim that Kaletra could represent an effective treatment for severe COVID-19 after it was being touted as a gamechanger in the coronavirus scourge its chances have been dashed by a trial failure in China.
In a clinical test for 199 Chinese patients, details of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that those receiving the treatment had no better outcome than those who had received other forms of care.
It didn’t improve the standard of care of the patients at improving their clinical symptoms, extending lifespan or cutting viral shedding in patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.