First drug candidates, combinations to treat coronavirus infection put to test in China, US

Globally, health authorities including the World Health Organisation (WHO) have been cautious about their responses to the coronavirus outbreak — to ensure deft action by health officials and avoid panic among the general public. But, as of 30 January, the WHO has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak, that originated in Wuhan, a global health emergency.

While there's no solid indication of the outbreak slowing down or being successfully contained, researchers around the world are working in overdrive to find a vaccination for the deadly, contagious virus.

In China as well as other nations with high population densities, a vaccine could prove critical — making the difference between a local public health emergency and a well-contained health threat.

 First drug candidates, combinations to treat coronavirus infection put to test in China, US

India's third case of coronavirus was confirmed in kerala by the Health Min on Monday, 2 February 2020. Image: PTI

US-based biotech company Gilead, which is popular for its HIV and Hepatitis C treatments, has partnered with the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing to have an antiviral drug called remdesivir tested in 270 coronavirus-infected patients from Wuhan and Beijing.

Gilead already submitted the drug through safety tests amidst the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015, which has allowed them access to test it on sick patients immediately.

There's evidence from ongoing trials of remdesivir's promise to treat coronavirus-positive patients. Moreover, many of the compounds being looked into are ones already tested in humans, with both a safety track record and proven effectiveness against various infections.

A second clinical trial is also underway in China, to test a combination of two existing anti-HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, against the novel coronavirus. Run by Chinese researchers, coronavirus patients treated with this drug duo appear to be helping a handful of coronavirus patients in Thailand, including a 70-year-old woman, Thai doctors said.

"This is not the cure, but the patient’s condition has vastly improved. From testing positive for 10 days under our care, after applying this combination of medicine the test result became negative within 48 hours," Dr Kriangsak Atipornwanich, a lung specialist at Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok, told Reuters.

What with the enormous pressure to curb the spread of 2019-nCoV any further, remdesivir could be the first drug used on Chinese patients under the compassionate use program — a clause written into the Chinese Drug Administration Law in August 2019. The US similarly allowed remdesivir to be used on a 35-year-old American patient on the same grounds.

If each person infected with the new coronavirus infects two to three others, that may be enough to sustain and accelerate an outbreak, assuming nothing major is done to bring down the numbers. Image: Getty

If each person infected with the new coronavirus infects two to three others, that may be enough to sustain and accelerate an outbreak, assuming nothing major is done to bring down the numbers. Image: Getty

Other companies with coronavirus drug candidates in the mix include Johnson & Johnson, Inovia Pharmaceuticals, Moderna Therapeutics and a coalition of public institutes led by Baylor's College of Medicine researchers.

Bayor's College has a vaccine for SARS that could offer protection against the (albeit, novel) coronavirus strain, according to Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

This, because of the striking similarities that Chinese health authorities found in coronavirus and other members of the same virus family, like the SARS-, MERS- and common cold-causing virus.

In late January, Aussie researchers managed to grow the coronavirus from a cell culture outside China. This "significant breakthrough" could go a long way in helping combat the deadly virus, which has claimed nearly 500 lives and infected 24,551 people worldwide. Researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital are hopeful that the advance will allow accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

Updated Date: Feb 05, 2020 13:04:12 IST



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