Finding Drugs And Developing Treatment Protocols For The Covid-19 Coronavirus - A Progress Report
The Covid-19 coronavirus
outbreak in China continues to ravage the country and is spreading globally. To date 1115 people have died and almost 45,000 infected with more than 7740 in a severe critical condition. As these figures are expected to rise drastically, medical researchers around the world are racing to find a treatment. Most of the individuals infected with the new coronavirus
have not received a treatment specific to that virus because there isn't one.
In reality none of the handful of coronaviruses
known to infect humans has an approved treatment or cure, and people who are infected typically receive care mainly to help relieve symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So far, a handful of repurposed drugs, from drugs targeting Ebola to HIV, have already some promise but at the same time reports of drug resistant possibilities has also emerged.
There were very few effective antivirals
, said Dr Stephen Morse, a Professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. That was especially true for RNA viruses like Covid-19
and HIV, which use RNA, rather than DNA, as their genetic material, however he said that that is changing
Dr Morse told Thailand Medical News
, "Recently, perhaps encouraged by the successful development of HIV anti-virals
, which proved it might be feasible to do more, our range of standy ‘ammunition’ has greatly expanded."
Developing brand-new drugs requires a huge investment of both time and resources, he added. So "while you're waiting for the new miracle drug, it is worthwhile looking for existing drugs that could be repurposed
to treat new viruses.”
In the US, that is the route that medical experts took to treat a 35-year-old man in Washington state, the first U.S. patient to have been infected with the new coronavirus
. When his symptoms worsened, the man was given an unapproved antiviral
drug called remdesivir
that was originally developed to treat Ebola, according to a case report published Jan. 31 in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Medical experts gave this new pharmaceutical preparation to the patient by making a "compassionate use" request to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which does allows experimental drugs to be given to people outside of clinical trials, usually in emergency situations.
The infected patient, who was recently released from the hospital, didn't seem to experience any side effects of the drug.
So far in animal models, scientists have found that remdesivir
can knock down similar coronaviruses
, such as the ones that cause Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Despite its use in an emergency situation, the drug "has not been demonstrated to be safe or effective for any use," Gilead Sciences, the biopharmaceutical company that is developing the drug, said in a statement.
Another group of researchers recently tested a number of antivirals
in the lab for their effectiveness against the new coronavirus
. They found that remdesivir
stopped the virus from replicating in a lab dish. Similarly, the group found that chloroquine
- an approved and widely used anti-malarial and autoimmune disease drug was also effective in stopping the coronavirus
from spreading in human cells in the lab, the researchers reported in a short letter published Feb. 4 in the journal Cell Research.
Significantly, both drugs were effective at low concentrations, and neither drug was highly toxic to human cells.
Dr Fanxiu Zhu, a Professor in the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University who was not part of the study commented, "These findings were encouraging but not entirely surprising because of the previous testing in Ebola patients, cell cultures and animal models. Both drugs "maybe are worthy of trial in this unprecedented and devastating situation."
Althoughh researchers expected the drugs to work, this group effectively proved they did, at least in the lab, in a short time frame. Dr Morse added, “ Chloroquine
seems to need a higher concentration than remdesivir
, but it's within the feasible range, and if it really works as well as the published in vitro results, it would be quite promising.”
in lab dishes "is the beginning, not the end of the process," Dr Morse said. If it works in the lab, or even in animal models, "that's no guarantee it will work in a human patient."
Gilead Sciences has already got approval from health officials in China to establish clinical trials to test the effect of remdesivir
on patients infected with the new coronavirus
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore said, "I think that there's a lot of hope with remdesivir
having some effect, and I think we'll only find that out from clinical trials."
However viruses are not as easy as bacteria to treat. That's because viruses are very diverse, with unique characteristics that can't be targeted with a broad-spectrum drug like a general antibiotic, Dr Adalja said. Also, viruses use human cellular machinery to create proteins that help it replicate, so targeting the viruses while not damaging human cells can prove challenging, he added.
It has been observed that when a virus infects the body, it first finds a cell and latches onto a protein on the cell's surface called a receptor. The virus then enters the cell via a vesicle called an "endosome." From inside this vesicle, it releases its RNA into the cell's cytoplasm and two things happen: the virus hijacks the human cell's machinery to produce the viral proteins needed for replication and it uses its own viral enzyme to copy its RNA. Finally, the viral proteins and RNA assemble into a structure that lets the virus leave the cell and move on to infecting the next cell.
target various points in this process of viral replication, said Dr Carol Shoshkes Reiss, a professor of biology and neural science at New York University.
Chloroquine blocks the coronavirus
's ability to acidify endosomes and release its RNA into the cell, which is a critical step for most viruses to begin their infection. Remdesivir
, in contrast, acts like a nucleotide, the building blocks for RNA and squishes itself into the copied RNA sequence, creating a "typo" and rendering it useless, Dr Reiss said.
In 2003, when a similar coronavirus
caused a SARS outbreak, some evidence suggested that another class of drugs called “protease inhibitors
” approved to treat HIV could also be effective against the SARS coronavirus
, Dr Adalja said. Based on previous studies that showed possible benefit of these drugs in treating both SARS and MERS, two of them are now being tested for their ability to treat 2019-nCov in a clinical trial in China, according to an article published in the journal JAMA.
These protease inhibitors
are drugs that target yet another point in viral replication: They block the ability of protein called the "protease" to cut a very long nonfunctional protein into smaller proteins that are needed for the coronavirus
The health authorities in China previously suggested that people infected with the coronavirus
take two lopinavir/ritonavir
pills (the protease inhibitors
that are currently being tested for use with the novel coronavirus
in the Chinese clinical trial) and inhale an interferon (nebulized alpha-interferon
) twice a day. Interferon alphas
are already approved to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and hepatitis C.
These drugs induce interferons, proteins that human cells naturally release as an alarm to other cells that there is an infection in the body. Interferons are very useful because they aren't specific to a single virus but respond to all viruses and all stages of viral replication, Dr Reiss said.
Only when researchers identify the specific protein on the outside of human cells that the new coronavirus uses to gain entry, "then they'll be able to find small molecules that can block the binding of the virus into cells," Dr Reiss said. In other words, they might create completely new types of drugs rather than repurpose older ones. "But these will take time to find," Dr Reiss said.
Research is underway in laboratories to do just that. For example, in a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, scientists are working to identify antibodies that will stop the coronavirus from entering cells, according to a statement. Still others are looking to develop a vaccine: Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health are in the early stages of developing a vaccine and plan to launch a clinical trial within the next three months, according to a statement.
Also Instead of finding a single drug to treat the coronavirus
, "I would suggest a cocktail of drugs that target different stages of replication," Dr Reiss said. "This Covid-19 coronavirus
is probably going to be like a number of other viruses, and it will undergo mutation and selection, so if you use only one antiviral drug, you are going to ultimately select for resistance."
Already there are cases in China that certain patients are already exhibiting resistance to the lopinavir/ritonavir
More significantly, the treatment will be most effective when given to a patient early on, perhaps even before symptoms develop, she said. "Taken very early in the course of exposure, the antiviral drugs
could have a real impact," she said. After someone is already in the hospital in respiratory distress and a high fever, "it is much harder to treat the infection, people are more likely to treat the disease."
Finding a treatment protocol for treating the disease means lessening the symptoms by providing respiratory support, lowering the fever and making sure people are hydrated, among other things. The vast majority of coronavirus patients today are receiving this type of treatment.
Even though several potential antivirals
might one day be used to treat the new coronavirus, it will likely take a couple of years for such drugs to be tested and approved. Once they are approved, there will probably be discussion around whether these antivirals should be given to patients to prevent disease or given to patients with relatively uncomplicated cases, similar to the debate around the best use for Tamiflu, Dr Morse said.
To date there are about 17 different pharma
companies and 23 medical research institutions working on developing new drugs or repurposing
existing drugs while two clinical trials are already currently underway in China to find a way to treat the new Covid-19 coronavirus.
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epidemic or the Thailand Coronavirus
scenario, keep on checking at: https://www.thailandmedical.news/articles/coronavirus