Ns News Online Desk : Trials around the world are attempting to identify treatments for people with severe Covid-19. The first drugs that do make a difference are now being identified.
What work is being done to find treatments?
More than 150 different drugs are being researched in different countries. Most are existing drugs that are being trialed against the virus.
The UK is running the the world’s largest clinical trial, called Recovery, with more than 12,000 patients taking part – it is one of the few trials to have given a definitive view on which drugs do and do not work
The World Health Organization (WHO) is running the the Solidarity trial to assess promising treatments in countries around the world
Multiple pharmaceutical companies are running trials of their own drugs There are three broad approaches being investigated:
Antiviral drugs that directly affect the coronavirus’s ability to thrive inside the body
Drugs that calm the immune system (severe Covid-19 is caused by patients’ immune systems overreacting and damaging the body)
Antibodies that can target the virus, taken from either survivors’ blood or made in a lab
It is possible that different drugs will work better at different stages – such as anti-viral at the beginning and immune drugs in late-stage diseases. Combinations of therapies will also be investigated.
The only life-saving drug
Of all the drugs being trialed, only one has been been proven to save lives – dexamethasone – and it is a significant breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus.
The UK’s Recovery trial showed the drug cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen. Dexamethasone is a steroid that calms down inflammation (part of the immune response) in the body. Crucially it is also cheap which means it could be used all around the world. However, the drug does not work on people with milder symptoms. What other drugs look promising?
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that was originally developed to treat Ebola. Clinical trials of more than 1,000 people found it cut the duration of symptoms from 15 days to 11. It has not been shown to save lives, although studies are still continuing.
However, the US has bought almost all of the supply, with the manufacturer Gilead also donating some to South Korea. Interferon beta is a protein that the body normally makes to dampen down inflammation. It is used as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The UK company Synairgen is delivering the drug directly to Covid-19 patients’ lungs using a nebuliser. Initial findings suggest the treatment cut the odds of a patient in hospital developing severe disease, but larger clinical trials are now needed.