As the coronavirus continues to define life as we know it in 2020, experts are working as fast as possible to develop COVID-19 treatments. Rather than taking the time and resources to develop brand new drugs, most scientists and medical professionals are focusing on existing pharmaceuticals that could be repurposed as coronavirus treatments.
The following four drugs show the most promise so far, and others are expected to follow.
Favipiravir: Japan’s Influenza Treatment
Favipiravir, also known as Avigan, has been used to treat influenza in Japan since 2014. It was also utilized as an emergency treatment during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2016. Now, China’s Science and Technology Ministry official Zhang Xinmin is reporting that doctors have had success treating COVID-19 patients with Favipiravir.
Multiple clinical trials performed in China have demonstrated positive results using Favipiravir to treat patients with COVID-19. Most notably, the drug cut recovery time from 11 days to four days for patients with mild to regular cases of the virus.
Favipiravir works by blocking the replication of coronavirus cells. This limits the life of the virus and may also protect the lungs from additional trauma. According to Zhang, “It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment.”
Hydroxychloroquine: Popular Malaria and Lupus Treatment
Hydroxychloroquine, also known under brand name Plaquenil, has been widely used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis since its approval in 1955. Its efficacy and safety are so well established that the WHO includes hydroxychloroquine on its List of Essential Medicines.
Doctors in the U.S., China, South Korea, and France all believe that hydroxychloroquine has the high potential to successfully treat COVID-19. After promising results from a small trial in Marseilles, France, the FDA is now organizing its own formal clinical trial of this drug.
Of the 36 people studied by physician-scientist Didier Raoult and his team in Marseilles, 16 were infected controls and 20 were treated patients. All 20 test patients received 600 mg daily of Plaquenil. By Day 3, half of the treated patients tested negative for the COVID-19 virus. By Day 6, a full 70% tested negative.
These results were dramatically different than the infected control patients. Only 6.3% and 12.5% tested negative for COVID-19 on Day 3 and Day 6, respectively. According to Roualt, “If clinical data confirm the biological results, the novel coronavirus-associated disease will become one of the simplest and cheapest to treat and prevent among infectious respiratory diseases.”
Remdesivir: A Repurposed Antiviral
Remdesivir was originally formulated to treat people with Ebola but failed to demonstrate positive results. However, lab studies indicate that remdesivir can effectively inhibit the growth of similar viruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV), and even the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
According to a case report in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the first coronavirus patient diagnosed in the United States was treated with remdesivir and showed improvements within 24 hours. Five clinical trials are currently underway in China and the U.S. to evaluate the exact effects of remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment. In particular, scientists want to identify whether remdesivir can reduce complications and shorten the life of the disease in patients.
Actemra: An Immunosuppressant
The previous three drugs address the direct health complications caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but for some patients, the virus itself isn’t the biggest threat. The COVID-19 virus can also cause severe immune overreaction that damages tissue and becomes life threatening.
Actemra, also known as tocilizumab, is an immunosuppressant drug that doctors hope can reduce this type of immune system assault by blocking the cell receptors responsible for triggering inflammatory reactions. The pharmaceutical company Roche recently launched a Phase III clinical trial to “evaluate the safety and efficacy of Actemra plus standard of care in hospitalised adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.”
The bottom line? With so many drugs currently being developed, studied, and distributed, an accessible treatment for the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t be far behind.