There are 70 COVID-19 vaccines currently being developed around the world. The WHO recently published a statement on the international nature of the process and anounced the “Solidarity” trial, which will compare four treatment options against standard of care. The hope is that testing patients in multiple countries simultaneously will help speed up the process of finding an effective career and in turn, allow countries to drop quarantine measures sooner rather than later.
However, experts such as White House advisor Dr. Fauci predict a vaccine will not be prepared for public use for another 12-18 months. Since it is imperative that a treatment is found sooner rather than later, studies and trials have begun on a number of treatments previously approved for other illnesses. Potential treatments range from failed Ebola drugs to antimalarials and could be crucial for fighting the coronavirus before a vaccine is approved. Here are three of the most notable potential treatments:
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine
These decades-old antimalarial drugs have been pushed by President Trump as a “game-changer” for halting the coronavirus pandemic. Despite lacking significant data to back up this claim, Trump’s optimism has led to panic buying of the drug, potentially posing issues for those who rely on hydroxychloroquine to treat lupus. The drugs work by decreasing acidity in endosomes, an organelle that ingests outside materials and a way that some viruses enter and infect cells. However, the COVID-19 virus infects cells with a different method. It attaches a so-called spike protein to a receptor on the outside of a human cell. Some studies suggest these drugs may be effective but only at very high—potentially toxic—levels.
The data supporting this drug is thin and variable. Chinese researchers touted the positive effects of the drugs in research published in BioScience, though the data behind their study has not been published. The first patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have been enrolled to evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs. 500 patients that are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 will be involved in this study. While these drugs have been the most hyped-up potential treatments, they are currently not included in the WHO’s Solidarity clincal trial. Much more research is needed before an conclusions can be drawn on their effectiveness.
This drug has been given a second chance after being developed to treat Ebola virus. It works by shutting down RNA-Polymerase, a key viral enzyme. The drug failed to have any impact when treating Ebola, but is showing promise when treating COVID-19 and could be authorized as a treatment as early as May. In a petri dish, the drug has been successful in preventing cells from becoming infected with COVID-19. The FDA has approved the drug for compassionate use—meaning it can only be approved for patients with severe cases. This is different from a clinical trial, as patients aren’t given any placebos and it can only be implemented later on in the illness. Ironically, some data suggests Remdesivir may be most effective when used in the early stages of the virus. Nonetheless, the drug has proven effective in compassionate-use studies. One study by Gilead Sciences showed that patients had an 84% clinical improvement after 28 days of treatment. Of the 50 patients enrolled in the study, 47% were discharged from the hospital after treatment. This drug will need a thorough clinical trial before it can be implemented as an official treatment, but the current evidence to support it is looking hopeful.
This treatment works by extracting the plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and infusing those currently affected. Recovered individuals have antibodies in their plasma which the sick could use to fight off the virus. This treatment is not new; it has been used to treat previous viruses including Ebola and influenza. The most difficult part is finding recovered patients with high antibody concentrations who are willing to donate. Once they donate, their plasma must be tested before being administered to sick patients, potentially slowing down the treatment.
The FDA approved this method to treat severe cases, and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has requested to use it to treat their patients. A clinical trial has also been approved to study the effectiveness of using plasma to boost the immune systems of the healthy, in hopes of using it to protect health care workers on the front lines of fighting the virus. According to Dr. Reich, the president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai Hospital, the treatment is “not exactly a shot in the dark, but it’s not tried and true.”
What we want to know at Quibbl:
Will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready sooner than Dr. Fauci’s timeline of 12-18 months? Vote Here.
Will chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine turn out to be effective coronavirus treatments? Vote Here.
Will Remdesivir become a standard coronavirus treatment? Vote here.