The Search for Drugs to Treat COVID-19

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Today there are no drugs that have been proven to treat the coronavirus, COVID-19, but a study from China showed that the inexpensive anti-malarial drug, Chloroquine phosphate, was safe and effective in shortening the course and decreasing symptoms in patients suffering from COVID-19 pneumonia (Biosci Trends, Mar 16, 2020;14(1):72-73). Chloroquine phosphate has been used for more than 70 years to treat malaria. Researchers report no serious harmful reactions to the drug in the more than 100 patients enrolled in the study.

The expensive Japanese drug favipiravir (Avigan), used to treat influenza was tried in 340 patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, and appeared “safe and effective.” AIDS drugs, flu drugs, ACE inhibitor blood pressure pills and interferon are very controversial with most experts saying that they have not been shown scientifically to be effective. We do not know if taking ibuprofen is harmful. Several European medical societies have publicly stated that they think it is not harmful.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has started trials for chloroquine and three other drugs that are already licensed to treat other illnesses, in ten different countries: Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand. Some studies in animals already show that these drugs may be effective in treating COVID-19:
• the antimalarial drug chloroquine
• the antiviral drug remdesivir (Gilead)
• a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir (AbbVie)
• lopinavir and ritonavir plus interferon beta

So far, one study from China reports that lopinavir and ritonavir are not effective in treating COVID-19 infections (NEJM, Mar 18, 2020).  Hopefully, other studies will lead to some effective treatments.  See The Current Coronavirus Pandemic

On 3/18/20, I did a call-in radio show primarily on COVID-19 for radio station WRTA in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Listen here.