Promising new Covid-19 treatments on the horizon
While we’re all doing our bit to flatten the curve by severely curbing our social and work activities, scientists and medical researchers around the world are hard at work developing new treatments and vaccines that will potentially prevent deaths and serious illness as well as help us emerge from our hibernations sooner.
Through their new Covid-19 initiative The World Health Organisation (WHO) is pulling out all stops to facilitate collaboration between scientists, governments, institutions and data-crunchers all over the world and help fast-track new and improved treatments as well as that all-important vaccine. Other institutions and research bodies are using their own initiative to collaborate and share information with the aim of finding a solution to the pandemic that has made the world stand still.
And all this international good-will and cooperation between scientists it starting to pay off. Some of the most promising steps forward in controlling Covid-19 in recent weeks from around the world include:
America’s Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved clinical trials of a new therapy based on an old medical treatment known to work on a number of viruses with a similar profile to Covid-19.
Convalescent Plasma Treatment involves injecting critically ill Covid-19 patients with ‘virus-fighting’ antibodies extracted from healthy individuals who have recently made a full recovery from the virus and have potentially developed immunity. The hope is that the antibodies from these now-healthy individuals will work to eradicate the virus when introduced into a new person carrying the disease.
Convalescent Plasma Treatment is known to work in the treatment of some similar respiratory diseases, but not all, so time – and a newly started clinical trial in New York – will tell if it works in the case of Covid-19.
A team from the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research has just started trials in dozens of Australian hospital using a combination of two existing drugs; one is approved for use in the treatment of HIV and the other for the treatment of malaria. Initial tests, both in the laboratory and in some of Australia’s first human cases, have proven very promising in the treatment of Covid-19. The trial has been, in part, influenced by a similar one reportedly to also be underway in China.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), China’s Institute of Biotechnology and Academy of Military Medical Sciences has already begun clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine. The Institute says it will be ready to share data from the vaccine trial with the international medical community in 6 months however it would be at least a further 6 -9 months (and probably more) before a commercially available vaccine would become available on the market.
A UK-based drug development company has begun a trial of a new drug to treat the most serious symptoms experienced by Covid-19 patients.
The new drug, an inhaled form of interferon-beta-1a is currently being trialled for use in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in people who also have respiratory viral infections. The company has just been given approval to roll out a second parallel trial for patients with Covid-19.
Interferon beta is a type of cytokine, a nonantibody protein that is released by the body in response to detection of a foreign antigen. It plays a vital role in generating the body’s immune response when exposed to viruses such as Covid-19.
Scientists in Germany are working on a drug that has already been shown to be effective in combating the SARS virus, a close cousin of Covid-19. The drug is approved for use in Japan in the treatment of chronic pancreatitis and postoperative reflux esophagitis, so it is known to be safe for use in humans. The drug is also known to suppress a human protein involved with infection. Importantly it’s been shown to inhibit infection in lung cells, the organ most vulnerable to attack from Covid-19.
The first potential vaccine to be clinically trialled in the United States has been developed by scientists from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a U.S. commercial biotech company. A trial of the vaccine has recently begun in a Seattle hospital with another in Atlanta about to begin.
The vaccine has shown promise in animal models and this is the first trial to examine its potential use in humans. Scientists from the partnership say they had a ‘head start’ on the vaccine’s development thanks to the work they were already doing on developing a vaccine for the related SARS virus and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Like the vaccine trial underway in Beijing any potential publicly available vaccine from this trial will be still be 12 to 18 months away.
Medical researchers from Imperial College London joined forces with a UK artificial intelligence specialist to create a complex data graph aimed at identifying which drugs, currently approved and in use, might be suitable for re-purposing as a possible Covid-19 treatment. The most promising candidate was a drug commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It’s theorised the drug could have to ability to inhibit the virus’ ability to enter lung cells, however further investigation will be needed before clinical trials begin.