Federal and local officials have been at the forefront of the fight to stop the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1 million people in the U.S. thus far. But behind the scenes, scientists and experts are in the midst of a distinct mission: Find a way to treat the virus, and quickly.
On Wednesday, hopes that a treatment is imminent were buoyed by an announcement from Gilead Labs that the antiviral medication remdesivir showed “positive data” in Phase 3 clinical trials among COVID-19 patients. The post was followed by more promising news, the results of a randomized controlled trial of the drug from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID), which found an “accelerated recovery time” for those with the virus who were given remdesivir.
— Gilead Sciences (@GileadSciences) April 29, 2020
Dr. Christopher Plowe, an infectious disease specialist who directs the Duke Global Health Institute, agrees that it’s a step in the right direction but stresses that it’s important to proceed with caution. “The critical next step before this drug can be recommended with any degree of confidence is to see those results from the second trial, which are expected in May,” Plowe tells Yahoo Life.
Remdesivir is far from the first drug to garner hope about therapeutic potential. But with dozens of drugs being tested as a treatment, it may seem impossible to keep up. In an effort to clarify, here is a breakdown of the main ones you need to know.
Hydroxychloroquine (brand name: Plaquenil)
One of the first drugs to receive early praise in the coronavirus pandemic was the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine. In countless press briefings, President Trump praised the drug as a “game changer” and “profound” — saying it was not only capable of treating COVID-19 but preventing it. In response, Americans reportedly began hoarding the drug, leading to concern about lack of supply for lupus patients, many of whom rely on the medicine daily.
Trump’s hydroxychloroquine campaign stemmed from a non-randomized March trial out of the U.K. in which patients were given the drug in combination with an antibiotic. The study was ultimately deemed “deeply flawed.” Subsequent studies have suggested that confidence in the drug was premature, showing little evidence that it can treat COVID-19 and that instead it may increase the death rate among those who take it. Experts are now advising against prescribing the drug.
The second drug to receive a boost from the White House’s coronavirus task force is an antiviral that was created as a way to treat Ebola virus. On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID, told reporters that the drug seems to have a “clear-cut positive effect” on “diminishing the time to recover.” The World Health Organization — which is careful not to prematurely jump on treatment options — seems optimistic about the drug as well, with a key member of the organization saying it’s the “one drug” they feel may have efficacy.
According to Gilead, the maker of the drug, there are currently six clinical trials that are actively studying its effectiveness, including one led by the National Institutes of Health, two in China and another in France. On Wednesday, the company announced that in the Phase 3 clinical trial, patients showed similar improvements in recovery time in both five-day doses and 10-day doses of the drug. Importantly, while both Gilead’s trial and the NIAID study showed success in speeding up the recovery of patients, another study published in the Lancet Wednesday concluded that the drug did not show “significant clinical benefits” in diminishing the symptoms of the virus. That study, however, was stopped due to the inability to recruit more COVID-19 patients and as such is being considered “inconclusive.”
Famotidine (brand name: Pepcid)
Perhaps the most surprising medicine to enter the running as a COVID-19 treatment is famotidine, a heartburn drug sold under the brand name Pepcid. The drug is what’s known as a histamine-2 blocker and used to relieve the pain of things like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by lowering the amount of acid in the stomach. It’s been available over the counter in the U.S. since the 1980s and was created as a joint effort between Johnson & Johnson and Merck.
Interest in famotidine as a treatment was reportedly piqued earlier this week when news broke that a study is underway in New York where COVID-19 patients are being given IVs of famotidine at “nine times the heartburn dose.” The idea to test in the U.S. originated with an epidemiologist from Massachusetts General Hospital named Michael Callahan, who observed the drug being used as a treatment in Wuhan, China. Results on the first clinical trials of the drug are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Favipiravir (brand name: Avigan)
A less-discussed treatment starting to gain steam in the U.S. is Avigan, an anti-influenza treatment created by drugmaker Fujifilm Toyama Chemical in Tokyo. Researchers in Japan concluded in March that the drug was “clearly effective” in fighting the coronavirus, with those who were given the drug showing both faster recovery time (four days compared to 11 days) and a more than 30 percent higher improvement in lung condition.
The Food and Drug Administration reportedly approved the drug for testing in the U.S. on April 7, where it will be studied by three hospitals in Massachusetts. As of this week, Japan is providing the drug to 37 additional countries in order to study it immediately.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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