Some patients who tested positive for coronavirus in Australia have already been treated with one of the drugs and “all did very, very well,” researchers say.
A team of Australian researchers say they’ve found a cure for the novel coronavirus and hope to have patients enrolled in a nationwide trial by the end of the month.
University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au today they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions wipe out the virus in test tubes.
He said one of the medications, given to some of the first people to test positive for COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in “disappearance of the virus” and complete recovery from the infection.
Prof Paterson, who is also an infectious disease physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said it wasn’t a stretch to label the drugs “a treatment or a cure”.
“It’s a potentially effective treatment,” he said.
“Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of therapy.”
The drugs are both already registered and available in Australia.
“What we want to do at the moment is a large clinical trial across Australia, looking at 50 hospitals, and what we’re going to compare is one drug, versus another drug, versus the combination of the two drugs,” Prof Paterson said.
Given their history, researchers have a “long experience of them being very well tolerated” and there are no unexpected side effects.
“We’re not on a flat foot, we can sort of move ahead very rapidly with enrolling Australians in this trial,” Prof Paterson said.
“It’s the question we all have – we know it’s coming now, what is the best way to treat it?”
Treatment could come sooner, with antiviral remdesivir showing early promise and already being used on an ad hoc basis before regulatory approval.
US President Donald Trump has urged his scientists and drug companies to speed up the process -- but experts say fundamental constraints could leave little wiggle room.
But there’s nothing like a pandemic to break the emergency glass on all possible options.
Remdesivir is now being tested in five Covid-19 clinical trials that have been set up at breakneck speed. It’s been delivered through a compassionate use program to some patients, including the first case in the United States. The first trial results are expected next month, though some analysts have already raised concerns about the prospects based on the drips of data emerging from a small number of patients.
Others’ hopes are high for the drug. As of now, there are no approved therapies for any coronavirus infection, and remdesivir is the farthest along in the development process of any candidate.
“There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy,” Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said last month. “And that’s remdesivir.”
The paper, published on a preprint server without peer review, described the epidemiology, clinical course, and viral characteristics of the first 12 U.S. patients with Covid-19, only three of whom were treated with remdesivir, which was developed to treat the Ebola virus but shelved after proving less effective than other drugs during testing. The analysis was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid-19 response team.
The team looked at patients with mild to moderately severe illness, which was detected early, and the findings indicated that “the window for diagnosis is long” and hospitalized patients showed signs of worsening in the second week after illness began. But RBC Capital Markets analysts examined individual patient data and decided the Gilead drug showed mixed results, at best.
While all three experienced gastrointestinal issues, one was complaining of diarrhea before receiving remdesivir. Nothing tanks an experimental new drug faster than elevated liver enzymes, but concentrations among some patients that weren't treated with remdesivir peaked higher than those that were.
Before dismissing Gilead Sciences' experimental antiviral, it's important to understand these are not results from a clinical trial designed to measure safety or efficacy. Among the 12 patients observed, only the three most seriously affected were given remdesivir. That's the exact opposite of the randomization taking place in the ongoing clinical trial.