Trials all over the world are trying to identify treatments for individuals who have severe Covid-19.
Currently, from protein purification
to steroids and antihistamines, the initial drugs that make a difference are being identified.
What Type of Work is Being Done to Find Treatments?
Over 150 different drugs are currently being researched in various countries. Most of them are existing drugs and are being trialled against coronavirus.
Recovery, the largest clinical trial in the world, is being run by the UK. Over 12,000 patients are participating. This is one of the very few trials that have provided a definitive view in terms of which drugs work and which ones don't.
The Solidarity trial is being run by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess promising treatments from countries all over the world. Numerous pharmaceutical companies are also running trials on their own drugs.
Three broad approaches are currently under investigation:
- Antiviral drugs that have a direct effect on coronavirus being able to thrive within the human body;
- Drugs that help to calm down the immune system (severe Covid-19 cases is caused by the immune system of the patient overreacting, which damages the body);
- Antibodies that can target the virus, which is either produced in a lab or taken from a survivor's blood;
- Various drugs work better at various stages. For example, anti-virals in the beginning stages and immune drugs during late-stage diseases. Combinations of therapies are also being investigated.
The Only Life-Saving Drug to Date
Of all of the different drugs that are currently being trialled, dexamethasone is the only one that has been proven to be able to save lives. This is a significant breakthrough for fighting against coronavirus. The Recovery trial in the UK has shown that this drug reduces the risk of death
by a fifth for patients who are on oxygen and by a third for those who are on ventilators. Dexamethasone is a steroid. It acts to calm inflammation in the body ( -which is part of its immune response).
Critically, it is also inexpensive so it can be used all over the world. However, this drug does not help individuals who have milder symptoms of the virus.
What Other Drugs Appear to be Promising?
The antiviral drug Remdesivir was developed originally for treating Ebola.
It was found in clinical trials of over 1,000 people that it reduced the duration of symptoms to 11 days down from 15 days. The drug has not been shown to be able to save lives, although this is continuing to be studied. The US has purchased most of the supply, while Gilead, the manufacturer of the drug, has also donated some of it to South Korea. The protein Interferon beta is normally produced by the body to dampen down inflammation. It is currently used for treating multiple sclerosis.
A UK company called Synairgen is directly delivering the drug to the lungs of Covid-19 patients using a nebuliser. It is suggested if initial findings that treatment may cut the chances of a hospitalised patient developing severe disease. However, larger clinical trials now need to be conducted.
Can Coronavirus be Treated Using Survivors' Blood?
Individuals who survive an infection will tend to have antibodies within their blood that can fight the virus.
The concept here is extracting blood plasma (where the antibodies are contained) from people who have recovered from the virus. The 'convalescent plasma' then is provided to an ill patient as a form of therapy
How Long Will be it be Before We Have a Cure?
We might never find a "cure" for coronavirus. There is still no cure for the common cold or flu or other similar types of infections. However, one treatment does work and others appear to be promising. Drugs that have been developed already are currently being tested by doctors and are already know to be safe to use. Therefore, more trial results are expected fairly soon. That is in contrast to vaccine trials (-which work to protect against infection instead of treating it). Here, researchers have to start from scratch.
Some brand-new experimental coronavirus drugs are being tested in the lab as well. However, they are not ready yet for human tests.
In other diseases that approach has worked, but not in coronavirus yet.