COVID-19 treatments may be ready to go in three months

Treatments for COVID-19 are progressing. Picture: Shutterstock
Treatments for COVID-19 are progressing. Picture: Shutterstock

COVID-19 treatments could be begin to appear within three months as drug trials around the world ramp up.

Australian National University infectious disease specialist Gaetan Burgio says he is optimistic that medications to treat the virus may be available from late June given the speed with which research is advancing.

More than 100 clinical trials of potential treatments have been registered and results are already being published.

"The field is moving very quickly," Dr Burgio said. "We have seen already randomised clinical trials being published, which is absolutely remarkable, extraordinary, because usually it takes a long time."

Scientists are working on three fonts: to develop a vaccine, create new treatments and test the effectiveness of existing drugs.

Dr Burgio warned that a vaccine was likely to be at least 12 months away, while it may be several months before experimental drugs such as the broad spectrum antiviral Remdesivir can be considered ready for use.

Instead, short-term hopes for treatment centre on drugs already on the market, particularly the anti-malarial chloroquine and the anti-retrovirals lopinavir and ritonavir, used to treat HIV. Scientists at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute are also about to start trials of a TB vaccine to combat the virus.

United States President Donald Trump has dismayed health experts by repeatedly claiming hydroxychloroquine, in combination with Azithromycin, could prove to be a "game changer" in treating COVID-19.

Following his remarks an Arizona man died after ingesting a fish tank cleaner containing chloroquine phosphate, while his wife is in hospital in a critical condition.

US President Donald Trump has touted anti-malarial drugs as a treatment for COVID-19.

US President Donald Trump has touted anti-malarial drugs as a treatment for COVID-19.

Dr Burgio warned people should not attempt to self-medicate with chloroquine and should only use the drug under medical supervision.

Some have seized on research done in China and South Korea to tout chloroquine as a potential cure but Dr Burgio said the studies were "not that conclusive" and warned that great care needed to be taken.

"What many people don't realise is that the dose you use for malaria is very low whereas studies show that for COVID-19 doses are 10 to 100 times higher," which carried a high risk of other complications, he warned.

Chloroquine may eventually form part of a COVID-19 treatment but its efficacy will first have to be assessed under a large clinical trial that has been launched by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Burgio urged people not to pressure their GP to prescribe chloroquine unless and until it receives Therapeutic Goods Administration approval as a treatment for the virus.

There have been hopes in recent weeks that the anti-retrovirals lopinavir and ritonavirhave may, in combination with other medications, prove effective.

But Dr Burgio said the result of a clinical trial published last week showed the benefit "wasn't that great"

"I don't think it is clear cut that we can say it is going to be a cure. We are not at that point yet," he said.

Melbourne University pharmacologist Phillip Reece warned that even if laboratory experiments of a drug show promise, that does not mean that it is safe and effective to use on people.

"Demonstrating effectiveness in laboratory experiments does not guarantee safety and efficacy in patients. This needs to be determined in well conducted clinical trials," Dr Reece said, cautioning that all drugs, including those already on the market, have potential side-effects.

Despite these concerns, Dr Burgio said the scale of the international research effort underway made him confident that useful treatments, whether it be some combination of existing drugs or experimental medications, will be developed.

"I am hopeful that within three months we will have a good idea which drugs are good and which drugs are bad," he said.

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This story COVID-19 treatments may be ready to go in three months first appeared on The Canberra Times.