COVID-19 Claiming Lives But Therapeutics Could Be on the Way

Sejuti Banerjea

With the coronavirus claiming the lives of over 34,000 people and infecting over 720,000 in total, there’s no denying the fact that people have grown ultra-cautious. Rather than waiting for their picks to become pans, many investors are pulling out of the stock market and hoarding cash. This, in turn, has banks boosting interest rates to try to attract the money back into flow.

A spiritual guru recently said, while talking about virus mutations that it doesn’t want to kill you, you’re its food and source of multiplication! So chances are it will eventually mutate to a more benign form that can continue to survive inside you. Virologist Ian Lipkin seems to think it could go either way, i.e., it could get more dangerous or more benign. So the importance of finding a cure can’t be stressed enough.

And as far as cures go, the WHO is getting ready to do large-scale testing of four treatments that might do the job through its Solidarity project. They’ve been talked about before, but the WHO getting hands-on with testing is definitely a positive sign.

So, these drugs are remdesivir (not too effective against Ebola but successful on animal models of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS), chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (malaria fighters), lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV drugs that typically don’t kill the virus but slow down the process of multi-organ failure) and lopinavir + ritonavir + interferon-beta (boosts immune system communication to speed up the body’s immune response).

Notably, America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced a randomized, controlled clinical trial that will evaluate remdesivir in hospitalised adults. The study will be conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha. Scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are also enrolling patients to test the drug.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (malaria fighters) are already being used in India because two small human studies have shown significant improvements on some parameters. Fast-track clinical trial was recommended because there’s much experience of their use in malaria, cost-effectiveness, pan-India availability and the fact that hydroxychloroquine has already been approved for diabetes treatment in India. Diabetics with COVID-19 have higher mortality rates, so this treatment might prove especially useful for this subgroup.

A Chinese clinical trial showed benefits of using chloroquine against a control group.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded in-vitro activity against different corona virus forms when using both forms of the drug. Although further tests are required, the FDA gave the go-ahead to New York state, the current global epicenter for the virus, to start administering the drugs to critically ill patients (emergency cases) and it has been added to the treatment.

The FDA also recommends that the drug be added to the Strategic National Stockpile (Sandoz donated 30 million dozes of hydroxychloroquine and Bayer donated 1 million dozes of chloroquine). Novartis NVS, Teva TEVA and Bayer will donate a respective 130 million, 16 million and 3 million dozes globally. Mylan is increasing domestic production first and will then move overseas. India temporarily banned exports of these drugs because of increased state government procurement leading to shortages, and supply chain issues stemming from the lockdown (even makers of active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs aren’t shut down).

Meanwhile the HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir are being recommended by Russia for treating mild cases of COVID-19 disease, although clinical trials in China showed no material improvement in virus buildup.

While companies are currently donating to deal with the crisis, any of the fast-track treatments, if successful, will be good payoff for their makers Gilead GILD, AbbVie ABBV and the rest.

Final Words

There are many aspects to fighting this pandemic, for which there’s still no known cure. So there’s the need to treat advanced cases, for which auto makers are scrambling, along with medical device makers, to manufacture more ventilators. There’s also the need to empty hospital beds quickly if a patient’s case is les severe. There’s also the need to protect at-risk people and healthcare professionals so they don’t catch it. So the WHO trial is intended to check all these boxes. Let’s see how it goes.

 

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