Update on COVID-19 Medicines & Vaccines - 25 March 2020
Author: Dr. Namita Singh
Coronavirus is having a serious impact worldwide and people are desperately waiting for its effective treatment. It has not just created a health emergency, but a financial crisis too. As of March 25, 2020 3:30 GMT, around 18,907 people have succumbed and 422,829 patients are infected by the pandemic worldwide. With this rapid increase in mortality rate and hospitals being overwhelmed, scientists are racing against time to develop a vaccine. So, the questions arise:
Why is it taking time to develop a treatment for Novel Coronavirus disease?
The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 is a new virus, which belongs to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Though it belongs to the same family, it is different and so are the drugs to treat it. Researchers are starting from scratch on the vaccine development, so it is going to take some time.
Are there any existing medications that can be used for treatment of COVID-19?
There’s certain evidence that treatment might exist in old drugs. Some researchers and scientists are investigating existing medicines and compounds that might work against COVID-19. Several existing drugs are currently undergoing clinical trials to test their efficacy and safety in the treatment of COVID-19. These include:
Remdesivir, a failed Ebola drug, was first discovered by the pharmaceutical company Gilead. It was originally developed for treatment of Ebola and related viruses. However, it wasn’t found to be effective in Ebola, but there is some evidence that it benefits COVID-19 patients.
Remdesivir is an antiviral, intravenous medicine that inhibits viral replication by inhibiting a key viral enzyme, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Since it failed in Ebola trials, it is now undergoing clinical trials to prove if it is safe and effective for use in COVID-19 patients. These trials are being evaluated in China and in the U.S. and results are expected in April.
Chloroquine is normally used to prevent and treat malaria. Scientists have discovered that it is effective at fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in some studies. Chloroquine has broad spectrum antiviral properties.
Whereas, Hydroxychloroquine is known as analog of chloroquine which means they both have similar structures but different chemical and biological properties. Besides malaria, Hydroxychloroquine has also been used for patients of systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome and for some complications of Lyme disease. Because the drug has been in use for years, it potentially poses fewer risks than a newly developed drug.
Lopinavir and Ritonavir
Lopinavir and Ritonavir are used to treat HIV and these are sold under the name Kaletra. Certain lab studies promise Kaletra as a potential COVID-19 treatment. However, it did not show encouraging results for treatment of COVID-19 patients with pneumonia in a recent trial in China. It is under investigation in a WHO study.
Favipiravir or Avigan
This Japanese anti-flu drug developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, is showing promising outcomes in treating COVID-19 patients. A trial in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 individuals showed positive results. Originally, it was developed to treat inflammation in the nose and throat.
Tocilizumab is a drug which is already being used for the treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis and Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) caused by certain cancer treatments. FDA has given a go ahead for the launch of Phase III Tocilizumab Trial for COVID-19 Pneumonia on March 23rd, 2020.
What vaccines are being developed for COVID-19?
Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts has developed a vaccine called mRNA-1273 in partnership with investigators from the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NAID), a part of National Institute of Health (NIH). Moderna announced that the first volunteer participant has been dosed in the Phase-1 study of mRNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus in Washington State and 45 healthy participants aged 18-55 years have been recruited for the study. Scientists were able to quickly develop mRNA-1273 because of prior studies of related coronavirus SARS and MERS.
China’s CanSino Biologics has developed a recombinant novel coronavirus vaccine that incorporates the adenovirus type 5 vector (Ad5). A phase 1 clinical trial of 108 participants, aged 16-60 years has begun in Wuhan China.
There are many more vaccines in the pipeline at various stages of development.
Researchers and Scientists the world over are putting in tremendous effort to deliver new medicines and vaccines for safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. Normally the development of medication takes decades and many times experimental medicines fail. As per the data available with the Biotechnology Innovation Organisation, the success rate for infectious disease treatments that are just starting clinical trials is as low as 1 in 5. So it is wait and watch as of now!
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