New drug trials that could beat coronavirus
The outcomes of the first trial of a promising treatment for COVID-19 will be reported within weeks and the drug could be approved for use in China as early as May and Australia soon after.
The broad spectrum anti-viral treatment Remdesivir is being employed against the virus in two clinical studies involving 760 people in China and results will be reported in late April.
In January the experimental drug was used on a 35-year-old man who was the first reported US case of COVID-19.
He was given the drug on the seventh day of his illness and the next day showed significant improvement.
His symptoms eventually disappeared reseachers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In February, Chinese researchers reported in the journal Cell Research that Remdesivir was "highly effective in the control of 2019-nCoV infection" in test tubes.
World Health Organisation or WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward said after a recent trip to Beijing "there is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's Remdesivir".
The treatment was developed by Gilead Sciences for the 2014 West African Ebola virus epidemic but it did not work well against that virus however, it caused few side effects.
If the treatment is found to work against COVID-19 the challenge will be to get it quickly approved for use and subsidised in Australia.
There are a number of mechanisms available to the federal government to do this.
The medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration could give Remdesivir provisional registration or put it on a priority pathway.
Alternatively it could be made available to doctors under a special medicines access scheme.
"TGA is very interested in the results of these clinical trials of remdesivir in COVID-19 infections in China. Steps are being put in place to ensure rapid international collaboration on the evaluation of these data, as it becomes available," a spokesman for the Department of Health said.
If it was unable to be quickly placed on the national medicines subsidy scheme it would be funded by public hospitals on a 50-50 share basis with the states under special coronavirus funding announced by the federal government this week.
Doctors on the Gold Coast are using an existing and approved HIV treatment Kaletra (Lopinavir combined with ritonavir) to treat some severely ill coronavirus patients.
This treatment is also being trialled on coronavirus patients in China.
Three Chinese patients treated with the drug in January recovered and there are reports that 20 COVID-19 patients admitted to other hospitals in China tested negative for the virus after taking this treatment.
The Journal of Korean Medical Science reported last month that the virus almost disappeared in a 54-year old male with COVID-19 after he was given Kaletra.
China is also trialling chloroquine, a malaria drug that killed off the new coronavirus in test tubes.
Some COVID-19 patients have been treated with blood plasma taken from people who have recovered from COVID-19.
The theory is that this will give them the antibodies to the virus built up in the person who fought off the virus.
Two stem-cell trials are also under way including a bizarre trial using stem cells derived from menstrual blood.
Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Programat the Kirby Institute said the drugs that are being trialled in China are existing drugs for other viruses, being repurposed.
"The most promising seems to be Remdesivir," she said.
"We do have processes for fast tracking, but the results of the clinical trials are not yet known," she said.