DURBAN – While there are no specific vaccines or treatments for Covid-19, some treatment trials have shown promise in helping those infected by calming an overreacting immune system or targeting the coronavirus, either by destroying it or stopping it from replicating.
In a review in the British Journal of Pharmacology, scientists from the United Kingdom called for wider screening of existing drugs to see if they might work against the new coronavirus. Many of the drugs being developed or tested for Covid-19 are antivirals. These would target the virus in people who already have an infection.
Remdesivir developed a decade ago, this drug failed in clinical trials against Ebola in 2014. But it was found to be generally safe in people. Research with MERS, a disease caused by a different coronavirus, showed that the drug blocked the virus from replicating.
The drug is being tested in many Covid-19 clinical trials around the world. This includes studies in which remdesivir is being administered alongside other drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib.
“People taking the drug recovered from Covid-19 in 11 days compared with 15 days for people who didn’t take remdesivir. The trial produced a “clear cut positive effect in diminishing time to recover,” said Dr Anthony Fauci.
Dexamethasone, a widely available steroid that dampens the immune response, became the first medicine shown to reduce deaths in Covid-19 patients. According to the scientists who carried out the trials, one in three deaths could be prevented among patients on ventilators.
For patients on oxygen, it could prevent one death in five. There was no significant benefit for patients who were not receiving respiratory support. In South Africa, where the drug is manufactured, the government has already been advised to use it to treat patients on oxygen or ventilation support.
Another recent development relates to an inhaler-based treatment that delivers a protein called interferon beta to the lungs. A preliminary finding showed that it reduced the risk of patients going on to develop severe Covid-19 by 79 per cent, compared with a placebo group. However, this was a small, early trial of the drug, called SNG001, developed by UK firm Synairgen.
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