WHO to launch trials of potential coronavirus treatments
The World Health Organization plans to launch its own trial to study potential treatments for the coronavirus, warning that the trickle of results from small studies may not be robust enough to make the right medical decisions.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said on Wednesday that the trial — named Solidarity — will be simple enough to permit the participation of hospitals struggling to cope with the burden of extra patients.
So far, 10 countries have signed up, including Argentina, Canada, France and Iran, which has a large outbreak, but not including hardest hit Italy or China. Mr Tedros said he hoped more would join.
“I continue to be inspired by the many demonstrations of solidarity from all over the world,” he added.
Drugmakers, governments and universities have been conducting trials on potential treatments for Covid-19 across the world, but especially in China where the outbreak began.
Mr Tedros warned that might not be enough: “Multiple small trials with different methodologies may not give us the clear, strong evidence we need about which treatments help to save lives,” he said at a WHO press conference.
There are three main categories of treatments: antivirals, used for diseases like HIV or Ebola, which would work by stopping the virus from replicating; antibodies, developed from those made by patients with the disease and given to boost the immune system; and anti-inflammatories, usually used for conditions like arthritis, if the disease kicks the immune system into overdrive, hampering breathing.
The WHO will test four different drugs or combinations against the standard of care in the country where the trial is conducted. The trial will include Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir, which many analysts believe is the best prospect for treating the coronavirus. It will also test a combination of HIV drugs from AbbVie — lopinavir and ritonavir. It will also test these two drugs alongside an anti-inflammatory previously used to treat multiple sclerosis. The fourth strand will look at the performance of the antimalarial drug chloroquine, which is a generic medicine out of patent.
The launch came as early results from a trial in Japan showed that anti-flu drug Avigan is working against the coronavirus. But that drug has serious side effects for pregnant women.
Another study published in the New England Medical Journal on Wednesday based on research in Wuhan, China, found that the lopinavir and ritonavir combination had no effect on patients’ condition or their mortality.