Coronavirus update: Clinical trials of antiviral drug begin

It looks like the finish line might be closer than originally thought for the pharmaceutical industry as they sprint to find a cure for the deadly disease. A statement made by the National Health Commission of China on Monday, February 3, 2020 declared that clinical trials are now underway at several hospitals in the city of Wuhan - where the first case was reported late last year. With the death toll (as of Wednesday, February 5) recorded at 500 since the first reporting on December 31, 2019, these trials are a beacon of hope in these uncertain, troubling times.

Coronavirus: A breakdown

There’s been a lot of news floating about over the last few weeks so it’s not difficult to have caught speculation and missed the facts. In case you’re unsure of what’s going on, here’s a summary of what we know so far:

Coronavirus is a virus targeting the respiratory tracts of hosts, both human and animal. The disease is believed to have originated from bacteria transmitted from bats at a wildlife market.

Infections can vary from the common cold/flu to more threatening conditions such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Due to uncertainties regarding initial data gathered, it is difficult to determine the lethality of the disease. However, those with weaker respiratory systems - such as the elderly or those with long-term medical conditions - are thought to be at a higher risk.

Transmission is believed to be carried person-to-person by unknowing hosts through every-day interaction, as those already infected do not produce symptoms until later in the virus’ incubation period.

Mass containment measures and quarantining is going on worldwide. With cases now being reported in the UK and the US, the World Health Organisation has officially declared a global health emergency as of Thursday, January 30th.

The experimental antiviral drug, Remdesivir, is the subject of the randomized Phase III clinical trials now underway in China. Developed in the US by Gilead Sciences, the drug was initially created to fight infectious diseases such as Ebola. Interestingly, Remdesivir was also originally designed to counteract an infection caused by this particular coronavirus, SARS. Not only this but the drug was found to show encouraging results when administered to the first US patient infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, according to a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). It’s reported that the trials will involve 270 patients with mild and moderate pneumonia believed to have been caused by the epidemic, and will consist of a strict, placebo-controlled study.

While researchers insist that we are still months - even years - away from finding a cure, the start of clinical trials signals the beginning of the end for the deadly disease.

Where do we go from here?

It was released on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 that researchers have applied for a local patent on Remdesivir, suggesting confidence in Gilead Sciences’ prototype drug. Speculation around the move made by the Wuhan Institute of Virology argues that such a license would be in Chinese interest when bargaining with the US company, if trials were deemed successful and the drug ready for mass distribution.

Again, while these are still early days, the buzz around the antiviral drug is overwhelmingly positive. If the results of the trials are anything like speculation suggests, we should have more than just hope and antibiotics in fighting infectious diseases now and in the future.



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