Preliminary Results From Clinical Trials for Coronavirus Treatments Expected in 3 Weeks

February 20, 2020 Updated: February 24, 2020
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Preliminary results from two clinical trials of therapeutics for the new coronavirus that’s spreading around the world are expected in several weeks, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Feb. 20.

The organization’s R&D Blueprint, a plan that allows the rapid activation of research and development activities during epidemics, has enabled the fast-tracking of two trials, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said at a press conference in Geneva at the organization’s headquarters on Feb. 20.

“We expect preliminary results in three weeks,” Tedros said.

One of the trials is using lopinavir and ritonavir, two drugs typically used to treat HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus infection. The medications are part of a class called protease inhibitors, working by decreasing the amount of HIV in the blood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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Medical workers in protective suits attend to a patient inside an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei Province, China on Feb. 16, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

Doctors in Thailand said earlier this month that initial results showed patients responding to a treatment that combined lopinavir and ritonavir and a flu drug called oseltamivir.

The other trial is testing an antiviral drug called remdesivir that was developed by Gilead Sciences. The drug isn’t licensed or approved anywhere for use, the company said in a January statement, adding that it was working with Chinese authorities to conduct a randomized, controlled trial to look at whether the drug could treat the new virus.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, remdesivir successfully prevented disease in rhesus macaques infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus.

The new virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19 that has killed thousands and infected more than 75,000 people worldwide, has no known vaccine or treatment, officials said.

“At this moment in time, there is no proven, effective treatment for COVID-19,” Janet Diaz, a WHO official, told reporters in Geneva.

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Medical personnel walking among patients with mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus resting at night in the temporary hospital set up in a sports stadium in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei Province, on Feb. 18, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

But some patients are being discharged from hospitals in China and other countries after recovering from the virus, Diaz said.

According to a database run by Informa Pharma Intelligence, 124 clinical trials had either been started as of Feb. 19 or were slated to begin in the coming weeks. All but three are in China.

“As of this moment, you’re looking at 40,000-plus patients being targeted,” Jake Mathon, an analyst at Informa Pharma Intelligence, told STAT News. “It’s an amazingly fast response, and the sheer number of patients involved is pretty staggering.”

Nearly half of the 124 trials will test antiviral medications, and another 47 will look at whether natural products, or Chinese medicine that isn’t classified as pharmacological products, can treat the new virus, Mathon said.

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Swab samples at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, Scotland, on Feb. 19, 2020. (Jane Barlow – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Some trials are listed on the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, including one using “traditional Chinese medicine cooperative therapy,” another that uses stem cells to treat the virus, and another that is focused on developing an antibody from people who have recovered from the virus.

Symptoms of the virus are similar to those seen in flu patients, and include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. The symptoms can appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure, health experts say. The best way to prevent infection includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when one is sick, and not touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Experts recommend frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing.

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