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Researchers have identified nearly 70 drug therapies that could relieve coronavirus symptoms, and with clinical trials being fast-tracked, it’s difficult to keep track of them.
Here is the latest on possible treatments as scientists race to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE + CHLOROQUINE
The first small but controlled study on the potential coronavirus treatment with hydroxychloroquine, a medicine for malaria and lupus, has found the drug is no more effective than conventional treatment.
The study — conducted in China and published by The Journal of Zhejiang University — included 30 patients with confirmed COVID-19, but notably, these patients were not given Zithromax, an antibiotic commonly known as the Z pack. Anecdotal evidence from a small French study showed that when Zithromax was combined with hydroxychloroquine, it showed promise of helping severe COVID-19 patients improve.
Hydroxychloroquine is a less toxic derivative of chloroquine.
However, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these drugs. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned these drugs were unproven and controlled clinical trials were needed to definitively prove if they drugs actually worked against COVID-19.
However, on Tuesday, New York state began administering hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax to the most critical COVID-19 patients after receiving Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Still, there are currently no FDA-approved drugs specifically for treating COVID-19 patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We hope for optimistic results,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
In a Fox News town hall on Tuesday, Vice President Pence said the administration wanted to make these drugs more widely available.
“We’re working with the FDA to allow these already legal medications to be used for off-label prescriptions by doctors, so that they can be used for coronavirus,” Pence said.
The FDA temporarily has lifted a ban blocking India’s Ipca Laboratories from shipping hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine tablets to the U.S. Hydroxychloroquine sales are up 7.9 percent compared to last year, according to IQVIA.
“We’ve also been working with manufacturers overseas,” said Pence, who added that he’s personally spoken to the CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals about producing more chloroquine.
The Trump administration’s optimism and touting of certain drugs such as Remdesivir has led to massive demand.
Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug seen as a possible COVID-19 treatment, has seen two Phase 3 clinical trials including one study with approximately 1,000 patients in countries with a high prevalence of COVID-19.
However, publicity over the experimental drug led to overwhelming demand from desperate doctors and patients forcing Gilead to shut down emergency access of the drug, as it looked to set up a broader program to allow more people to try it.
“Due to overwhelming demand over the last several days, during this transition period we are unable to accept new individual compassionate use requests,” Gilead announced in a statement. “With the exception of requests for pregnant women and children less than 18 years of age with confirmed COVID-19 and severe manifestations of disease.”
In New York, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is conducting a phase 2/3 clinical trial of Kevzara, a rheumatoid arthritis drug that could relieve lung inflammation in severe COVID-19 cases. Some 50 patients in New York have been taking part in the trial.
The company also has been working on a lab-made antibody cocktail that could give people temporary immunity to COVID-19 — an “intermediate step” — as scientists worked on a vaccine.
“It can immediately protect you but it only lasts a limited amount of time,” said Dr. George D. Yancopoulos, the president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron. “It can protect all health care workers. The minute you get this shot, you would be protected and it would last for a month or two. It’s not permeant like a vaccine. You could give it to all the people at risk and give to children with cystic fibrosis or other lung diseases, and the elderly.”
Regeneron signaled it’s hoping to have the antibody cocktail run through human trials and approved by end of the summer, and it’s the company’s hope that Kevzara could be approved for coronavirus use by the end of the spring.
“We are going way ahead of any schedule that could even have been imagined,” Yancopoulos said. “This could be quite a near-term one-two punch.”
NEW YORK STATE EXPERIMENTING
The FDA also has authorized New York state to try an experimental procedure in which the plasma from an infected person is taken and injected into a person struggling with the virus — in the hopes the antibodies made a difference.
Cuomo said New York also has been working on a new blood test that would identify who already has been infected with COVID-19 and had antibodies to the virus, making them immune.
“You now have an immunity to the coronavirus for some period of time,” Cuomo said. “These are then health care workers who could go back to work.”
The White House said a coronavirus vaccine likely won’t be available for another year and a half. In the meantime, the Trump administration has remained optimistic that treatments for COVID-19 would arrive soon.
“The good news is,” Pence told Fox News, “we expect a little bit later this spring to have some breakthrough therapeutics that will bring relief to Americans that are struggling with coronavirus.”