HIV drugs touted as weapon in war on coronavirus

As doctors scramble to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus, a potent brew of anti-retroviral and flu drugs has emerged as a possible defence against the disease that has killed hundreds. 

China begins clinical trials for new ARV to treat coronavirus

China has begun clinical trials to test a drug for the deadly new coronavirus, which has no cure and is being treated with a combination of antivirals and other measures, as scientists, race to find a vaccine.

The experimental antiviral drug, Remdesivir, developed by US-based Gilead Sciences, is aimed at infectious diseases such as Ebola and SARS. It was given to the first US patient last week – a 35-year-old man whose condition appeared to improve within a day. China’s National Health Commission on Monday said the drug trials were being carried out at multiple hospitals in the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak that has killed more than 360 people since December. Some 270 patients will take part in the study. The world Health Organisation also said it was working with partners to speed up drug research and development to treat the pneumonia-like illness. It said although antibiotics did not work on viruses, only bacterial infections, patients may also, be given antibiotics to fight co-infections.

The NHC last week released its fourth version of a treatment plan for the new coronavirus, to guide medical staff in hospitals across the country. It calls for the use of antiviral drugs usually used to treat HIV, such as lopinavir and ritonavir.

For more severe cases, hospitals are advised to try to prevent complications and provide organ, respiratory and circulatory system support. According to clinical observations, the most severe cases have mostly been seen in elderly people with existing illnesses like diabetes or heart problems, while many of the coronavirus patients who died suffered from multiple organ failure.

A respiratory specialist in Nanjing who only gave her surname, Dai, said the treatment recommended in the NHC plan for Chinese hospitals mainly provided support for a patient’s body to fight the virus. “There’s no cure yet for this specific virus, just like [there isn’t one] for common viral colds,” she said. The antiviral medicines being used have not yet proven to be completely effective, and other measures in the plan are mostly for life support, such as using an oxygen mask and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – an artificial heart-and-lung treatment.

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