The race for treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic has continued to gather pace, with the biggest countries and companies in the world battling to be the first to discover how to halt the deadly virus.
Global fundraising for a coronavirus vaccine has exceeded $10 billion, the EU said on Tuesday, but the World Health Organization has earlier warned that a vaccine might not be ready until the end of 2021. Some experts have suggested that the development of a vaccine is key for the world to recover from the economic havoc wreaked by lockdown measures related to the virus.
Here’s where some of the latest treatments are up to:
Touted by US President Donald Trump, hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine is a malaria drug that has been suggested as a way to prevent infection and minimize symptoms of the coronavirus.
However, recent data has tied the drug to a higher risk of death and heart rhythm problems.
“Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm,” said Dr. Mandeep Mehra, a heart specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and a leader of the study.
Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir has been the topic of much media scrutiny.
In early May, the company said it expects to have manufactured over 1 million remdesivir treatment courses by December. In trials, the drug has been shown to help patients recover from the coronavirus much faster, in around 11 days compared to around 15 days. The drug has also been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in patients suffering from COVID-19.
According to analysts at Piper Sandler, the drug could lead to over $2 billion in revenue for Gilead, with a price tag of around $4,500 per round of treatment.
Last week it was announced that Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals would become the first company in the world to start selling a generic version of Gilead’s remdesivir. The company plans to sell the drug for around 6,000 taka ($71) a vial to private clinics, while state-run hospitals treating coronavirus patients will receive it for free, Bloomberg reported. Critically ill patients will need at least six vials for the treatment to be successful.
Favipiravir is being tested by Russian pharmaceutical investment firm ChemRar with the support of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). On Thursday, clinical trials moved to the final stage in which it is tested on a randomized sample of COVID-19 patients.
The drug has several advantages including significantly reducing patient recovery time, and its availability in tablet form, making it easier to use, according to an earlier statement from the RDIF.
The final stage of trials were approved to begin on May 21, involving 330 patients, the statement said. Earlier results had suggested that the drug has no new or previously unreported side effects and brought down the body temperature of a majority, 68 percent, of patients twice as fast as patients not taking favipiravir. Complete elimination of the coronavirus took on average around four days with the drug, compared to around nine days with standard treatment.
“Thanks to the administration of Favipiravir, most patients are not infectious as early as the fifth day of treatment, which is critical to stop the epidemic and ensure a swift return to normal life,” Elena Yakubova, CEO of ChemRar Pharma said in a statement..
After four days of treatment with the drug, 65 percent of a test group of 40 patients were found to test negative for the virus. By day 10, the number of patients testing negative had reached 35.
Coronavirus patients who took the over-the-counter drug famotidine commonly used to treat heartburn were less likely to die or require intubation and a ventilator, a paper published by physicians in New York suggested in early May.
The study, published by physicians at hospitals under the Northwell Health group, found that among a study of 1,536 patients, 332 patients who did not take famotidine either died or were intubated and put on a ventilator, compared to only 82 patients who died who were taking famotidine.
“In patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and not initially in an intensive care setting, famotidine use was associated with a two-fold reduction in clinical deterioration leading to intubation or death,” the paper’s conclusion read.
However, the authors of the study urged caution, noting that the findings are not definitive proof that famotidine is a treatment for patients hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Triple antiviral treatment
In the pandemic’s early days, researchers found that a triple-drug combination of antiviral medicines were helping to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms and reduce the amount of virus in the bodies of patients.
The treatment utilizes HIV medicine lopinavir–ritonavir, hepatitis drug ribavirin, and multiple sclerosis treatment interferon beta.
Findings from a small study conducted in Hong Kong in early May suggest the efficacy of the treatment, with people who received the triple-drug therapy having no detectable virus in their bodies after just seven days, compared to the trial’s control group at 12 days.
The Oxford vaccine
Researchers at the UK’s University of Oxford have previously set an ambitious target of providing 30 million coronavirus vaccine doses by September this year. Drugmaker AstraZeneca revealed last week that it has also received more than $1 billion in US funding to develop the vaccine, with supply agreements in place for around 400 million doses.
However, Adrian Hill, director of Oxford’s Jenner Instiute, and co-lead in the vaccine’s development, told the Telegraph newspaper last week that the vaccine’s trials only have a 50 percent chance of success.
“It's a race against the virus disappearing, and against time,” Hill told the British newspaper. “At the moment, there’s a 50 percent chance that we get no result at all.”
Hill's team began early-stage human trials of the vaccine in April, making it one of only a handful to have reached that milestone.
On Monday, US-based biotech company Novavax said it had started the Phase 1 clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine. The company expects preliminary immunogenicity and safety results from the trial in July.
Novavax said, upon successful completion of Phase 1, the Phase 2 portion of the trial will be conducted in several countries, including the US.
The drug, known as NVX-CoV2373, uses the company’s Matrix-M adjuvant to enhance immune responses to achieve its vaccine response.
Adjuvants are mainly used to make vaccines induce a strong immune response, including through the greater production of antibodies, and provide longer-lasting protection against viral and bacterial infection.
The MMR vaccine and coronavirus
A study by a data analyst on Monday suggested that countries where large portions of the population have received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine have reported much lower coronavirus deaths.
The study also suggests that the “widely deployed measles-rubella containing vaccines (MRCV) are believed to be why children, teenagers and other young adults often have few symptoms from COVID-19 and few deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the young.”
Countries such as Madagascar, Hong Kong, and South Korea have relatively low coronavirus death counts and high levels of MRCV vaccines. Other countries that have been hardest hit such as Italy, Belgium and Iran have low levels of MRCV vaccines or the vaccine has not been implemented sufficiently.
The study therefore suggests using the MRCV vaccine against COVID-19.
“There should be an immediate investigation of using the already available MMR vaccine in controlled studies to show a protective benefit. Epidemiologic studies suggest this may already be effective as a COVID-19 vaccine, and this could be instituted within months, perhaps saving thousands of lives with an earlier deployment than other vaccines under development,” it read.