The world is desperately awaiting a coronavirus cure; anything from a definitive treatment to an effective vaccine would be deeply appreciated right now.
Presently, no medicament is uniquely intended to combat COVID-19. However, there has been a global spike in search of a coronavirus vaccine. With investigations continuing to advance on ways to prevent the spread of the disease. But, most importantly on how to treat ailing patients. There are studies that suggest that we should be hopeful.
The demand for drugs normally used for other treatment purposes has increased. Drugs such as Chloroquine, Arbidol, Remdesivir, and Favipiravir are currently undergoing clinical studies to test their efficacy and safety in the treatment of coronavirus disease.
At the moment, there are four of these germs that cause illness ranging from common cold-like illness to more severe disease. As a result, the global community of drug discovery researchers and biopharma is developing a much broader menu of therapeutic options for this group of viruses.
As an adult who has had flu before, chances are, you’ve had an encounter with at least one of them. But, the big masquerade parading itself right now is the 2019-nCoV now known as COVID-19 or the ‘novel’ coronavirus.
It’s novel because it’s new, formerly known to only infect animals such as bats which are considered natural hosts of these viruses. Presently, several other species of animals are also known to act as cradles nurturing these viruses.
A good example remains, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which can be transmitted to humans from camels, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-1 (SARS-CoV-1) which is transmitted to humans from civet cats.
If you’re curious to know about the headway of the scientific community? You’re in luck as today’s post promises a plethora of information on the search for a coronavirus cure.
What is the top contending coronavirus cure?
Fair enough, certain regimens are already in existence for the management of other illnesses. Owing to this, some armchair physicians have questioned the effectiveness of Chloroquine – typically used to treat Malaria, caused by a parasite but now employed in tackling COVID-19, caused by a virus.
Understanding the pharmacodynamics of drugs is important, as a pill does not need to act on the pathogen directly to be effective. As with Chloroquine, it lowers the blood pH and interferes with the replication of the virus.
Hence, in this segment, we’ll look at the forerunners from a repurposed flu treatment, erectile dysfunction drug, botched Ebola drugs, anti-hypertensive drugs to malaria treatments such as hydroxychloroquine.
The combo —hydroxychloroquine trials
Marketed by Sanofi as Plaquenil®, and Azithromycin, marketed by Pfizer as Zithromax® or “Z-Pak”—as well as Chloroquine phosphate, made by Bayer and numerous Chinese manufacturers.
The combo is supported by America’s president Trump who described it in a tweet on March 21st, 2020 as, “a real chance to be one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine”. However, the scientific community is divided into opinion lines about the combo as a possible coronavirus cure.
The right-wing cites positive results published by a Chinese research team. You might be thinking “not the Chinese again!’’, but before you conclude, they’ve acknowledged a confirmation by clinical trials since what they did was only in vitro, that is, outside a living body but in a lab vessel.
The good news here’s “HCQ can efficiently inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro” and has “good potential to combat the disease.”
Well, except that ‘a test tube specimen does not have 37 trillion cells wrapped into different tissues and complicated organs like real people’.
What we know about Chloroquine already?
In a recent development, the trial of Chloroquine to treat COVID-19 stopped early due to heart complications in Brazil. Turns out, some patients taking a high dose of the drug developed dangerous heart rhythm problems.
The Brazilian researchers intended enrolling 440 people in a study to test whether chloroquine is a safe and effective treatment for the novel COVID-19. Participants were given either a “high dose” of the drug (600 milligrams twice daily for 10 days) or a “low dose” (450 mg for five days, with a double dose only on the first day).
As usual, the study was “double-blind,” which means that neither the patients nor their doctors knew which dose they were receiving.
However, just after enrolling 81 patients, the researchers noticed the warning signs. Just about a few days of starting the treatment, the patients in the high dose group experienced heart rhythm problems.
Similarly, it was noticed that these side effects were lesser in the low dose group. Unfortunately, two patients in the high dose group developed a fast, abnormal heart rate known as ventricular tachycardia before they died.
It’s worthy of note that those were extreme cases, as a matter of fact, both drugs Chloroquine and Azithromycin are known to increase the risk of heart rhythm problems.
This should not be the rejoinder but, the study conveys a useful piece of information, which clearly shows that taking a higher dose of Chloroquine is toxic and could predispose people to sudden cardiac death.
The antivirus – (botched Ebola drugs) Remdesivir trials
On-going research at the Götte lab of the University of Alberta has shown promising results on the drug Remdesivir as a coronavirus cure. They previously worked on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), nonetheless, a few years ago switched to study on viruses with the highest epidemic potential.
They’ve been most active since the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, issued its list of the top pathogens likely to cause severe outbreaks, including Ebola, Lassa, and coronaviruses.
Conforming to a publication by sciencedaily , the antivirus is very much effective in stopping the replication mechanism of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. which makes it on the way to becoming the much-awaited coronavirus cure
The recently published result is a follow up from a research by the same lab in late February that demonstrated Remdesivir worked against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus which is like a cousin to coronavirus. Similar results were achieved against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The outcome indicate Remdesivir is a potent inhibitor for coronavirus polymerases (an enzyme which brings about the formation of a particular polymer, especially DNA or RNA).
This polymerase is merely like an engine of a machine, just like the normal workings of machinery if the engine (polymerase) is destroyed, the machine (virus) cannot spread, so it’s a very logical target for treatment of the COVID-19 virus.
The coronavirus might be ravaging, but sloppy, as the germ is easily fooled; the lab’s work shows how Remdesivir tricks the virus by mimicking its building blocks. Invariably, the inhibitor gets incorporated many times and the virus can no longer replicate. will that serve as a coronavirus cure? I think I should!
Well, the evidence might be glaring and justified by clinical trials. However, we’ve got to be patient and wait for the results of the randomized clinical trials before deployment. As results obtained in the lab cannot overtly be used to predict how the drug will work with people.
Broad Spectrum Anti-viral agent – Favipiravir (marketed by Fujifilm as Avigan and by Hisun in China as Favilavir)
Favipiravir, discovered while searching for drugs to treat common flu and currently sold under the brand name Avigan is a more robust antiviral medication used to treat influenza in Japan.
It is also being studied to treat a number of other viral infections including COVID-19. The Japanese have approved Avigan for novel or re-emerging influenza and was previously used to treat Ebola.
Even the Chinese authorities, for example, think of Favipiravir as a “clearly effective” antiviral drug against COVID-19.
In a recent study of 240 patients with pneumonia, although not severe cases, this drug was given to half of them while the other half were given Umifenovir (or Arbidol), an antiviral used in a clinical trial in Russia.
Consequently, those subjects given Favipiravir experienced diminished symptoms of fever and cough. Similarly, the subjects in each group ended up needing oxygen or respirators, but regardless, Favipiravir was the “preferred” of the two drugs.
The broad spectrum anti-virus agent is engineered to selectively and potently inhibit the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) or RNA viruses. Favipiravir is effective as it works by preventing the virus from copying its genetic material, thereby halting its replication. The drug is indigenous to Japan.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in March that his government will liaise with other countries to launch clinical trials on COVID-19 patients and ramp up its production, with haste to pursue its approval if it succeeds in clinical trials ongoing at Fujita Health University.
How we know Favipiravir might be effective?
According to a report by Zhang Xinmin an official of China’s science and tech Ministry, Favipiravir produced positive results in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients. Results showed that there was a shortening of the time after treatment that patients tested negative for COVID-19.
The timeline abridged from 11 days to four days, and improved lung conditions in 91% of treated patients compared to 62% of untreated patients, as measured via X-rays.
However, Fujifilm has responded with a statement stressing that Avigan is still under extensive study and has not been approved.
Common flu drugs – Arbidol (Umifenovir)
As the world undergoes a feverish search for an effective treatment for the coronavirus, Arbidol, a common flu virus drug indigenous to Russia has made the contender list. Its mechanism of action is similar to the Japanese/Chinese counterpart, Favipiravir which exhibits its action by preventing the virus from crossing the cell membrane and penetrating inside it to replicate itself.
Comparatively, even though Favipiravir is more effective in this regard, Arbidol can effectively make the ‘other treatment’ list for the novel coronavirus treatment. Arbidol, developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, has not been approved nor undergone a full clinical trial conducted to international standards.
Certainly, its effectiveness against COVID-19 as well as any other virus has not been proven.
The controversy over the effectiveness of Arbidol is huge, according to Isobel Cockekerell, ‘any evidence for its effectiveness is thin on the ground’. Yet, it’s one of Russia’s best-selling over-the-counter drugs and Italy also has seen a storm of interest in Arbidol in the treatment of COVID-19.
What is the way forward with coronavirus treatment?
Interest in the aforementioned drugs as a potential treatment for COVID-19 has grown considerably and as such, many countries have struggled with high demand and shortages.
Bottom line is that more research is needed before we can draw any definite conclusions about effective COVID-19 treatments or even a cure.
Therefore, to avoid poisoning or overdosing, these drugs should strictly be taken under the supervision of a medical doctor. In the meantime, obeying the instructions of hygiene, self-isolation/quarantining and social distancing remain reliable as it will take a long while before scientists are able to come up with definitive treatment and/or vaccine.
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