Coronavirus

Researchers Around the Globe Are Racing To Discover and Create COVID-19 'Game Changers'

None have yet emerged that can clearly stem the tide of the ongoing pandemic.

|

On March 19, 2020, President Trump touted the anti-malaria drug chloroquine as a possible "game changer" in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, at the same press conference, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn cautioned that what "is important is not to provide false hope." Now almost a month later, do any therapeutic pandemic game changers look likely to emerge soon?

First, the good news. Research on therapies for coronavirus infections is ramping up at a blistering pace. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News reports that at least 161 treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are proposed or are in development. As of April 9, the Milken Institute's COVID-19 Treatment and Vaccine Tracker has identified 243 potential coronavirus treatments in the research pipeline. The U.S. National Library of Medicine's ClinicalTrials.gov site lists 524 studies that have been proposed or are already being undertaken to find ameliorative treatment regimens, therapeutics, and vaccines for COVID-19.

Now let's turn to the not so great news.

Hydroxychloroquine & chloroquine 

Based on largely anecdotal evidence, the FDA on March 30 issued an emergency use authorization for chloroquine and the related anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as experimental treatments for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. ClinicalTrials.gov lists 58 studies worldwide testing the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 with 21 taking place in the United States. The site also identifies 13 studies worldwide on chloroquine with 2 studies in the U.S. A quick review of the clinical trials finds that most of them have yet to be launched and that almost none will be completed before this coming fall.

In the meantime, evidence from the small chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine studies that have been completed unfortunately do not suggest that treatments using the two anti-malarial are game changers. The initial optimism about the anti-malarials was fueled by the results of a small non-randomized French study that reported the elimination of coronavirus in 20 patients after six days of treatments combining hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin. However, the scientific society that publishes the journal in which the French study appeared issued a statement in April that the study did not meet its expected evidentiary standards.

Some support for the idea that hydroxychloroquine might be an effective treatment was reported by a Chinese study that randomly assigned hydroxychloroquine to half a cohort of 62 COVID-19 patients. After five days "the body temperature recovery time and the cough remission time were significantly shortened in the HCQ [hydroxychloroquine] treatment group" reported the researchers.

Contrariwise, a study at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in which 30 COVID-19 patients were randomly assigned standard care or treatment with hydroxychloroquine found essentially no differences between the groups. Another randomized controlled trial of 150 hospitalized COVID-19 patients just released by Chinese researchers also found no difference in the rate of viral load reduction or symptom alleviation between the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and the one that had not been. The researchers do note that perhaps future studies in which COVID-19 patients are treated earlier in the course of their infections could possibly turn out to be more than marginally therapeutic. In any case, some of the several dozen other studies might eventually show some significant efficacy for the two anti-malarials in treating COVID-19, but the early indications are not promising.

Anti-virals 

Another strategy to defeat the coronavirus is to identify and deploy an anti-viral compound as a pandemic game changer. One of the more hopeful prospects is the antiviral compound remdesivir, manufactured by the biotech company Gilead. Researchers reported in 2018 that it potently inhibited replication of a variety of coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS in in vitro and mouse model tests. ClinicalTrials.gov lists 10 trials (two Chinese trials were just suspended) in which the intravenously delivered drug is being tested to treat COVID-19 patients.

An April 10 New England Journal of Medicine article reported clinical improvement in 36 of 53 patients hospitalized for severe COVID-19 who were treated with compassionate-use remdesivir. However, the lack of a control group means no hard conclusions can be drawn from these results. The earliest results from randomized controlled trials is not expected until the end of May.

Another anti-viral being repurposed as a possible COVID-19 treatment is the anti-influenza drug favipiravir. ClinicalTrials.gov lists five trials using it, some in conjunction with other therapies. A Chinese study that evenly divided 240 COVID-19 patients into two cohorts compared the effects of the antivirals favipiravir and arbidol on the course of their infections. While favipiravir relieved the patients' fevers and coughing faster, a week later there was no significant difference in the clinical recovery rate of the patients. The results from a couple of the other trials should be coming in around June.

Hopes are high for the broad-spectrum anti-viral compound EIDD-2801, developed by researchers at the biotech company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Emory University. The researchers report that in laboratory studies the compound powerfully inhibits the replication of various coronaviruses, seasonal and bird influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, chikungunya virus, Ebola virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus. On April 10, the United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency gave the go-ahead for the company to begin a phase I clinical trial for the orally available anti-viral.

Antibodies 

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that attack invading viruses and bacteria. Biotech companies have developed a number of antibody therapies to treat autoimmune disorders and cancers. There are various techniques for identifying and then producing human antibodies as therapies. However, very few antibody therapies have been developed to treat or prevent infectious diseases.

An old form of treatment that is being pursued by a number of drug companies is to infuse the antibody-laden plasma from folks who have recovered from COVID-19 into patients with the goal of fending off the infection long enough for them to produce their own defensive antibodies. In late March, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the results of a small Chinese uncontrolled case study in which convalescent plasma was transfused into five patients on ventilators. All five improved and three were discharged from the hospital. Now ClinicalTrials.gov lists 22 trials using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.

One of the more dangerous complications of COVID-19 is the damage that excessive inflammation can cause as the body mounts its immune response to the coronavirus. In a small Chinese study the anti-cancer antibody therapy Actemra helped tame this effect in 20 patients, eliminating their fevers and clearing their lungs. While several companies are racing to isolate specific COVID-19 antibodies from the plasma of recovered patients with the aim of producing coronavirus therapeutics, there are no clinical trials for them yet scheduled.

Vaccines

According to the World Health Organization there are 70 candidate coronavirus vaccines in development now, but only three of them are currently in human clinical trials. Researchers around the world are cooking up vaccines using a wide variety of recipes including DNA, RNA, live attenuated, and recombinant vaccines. Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has declared that his foundation is planning to pick the seven likeliest candidates and begin building immediately afterwards the manufacturing capacity for millions of doses of each them, with the hope that one or two of them will prove effective. So far, no vaccine has ever been developed and deployed to prevent any coronavirus infection in humans.

The search for COVID-19 game changers is urgent and moving fast, but none have yet emerged that can clearly stem the tide of the ongoing pandemic.

Advertisement

NEXT: 12-Year-Old "Politically Vocal Boy" Loses Libel Claim Against Newsweek

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Just eat some matzo ball chicken soup.

    1. Works for everything else, why not?

      1. Aha.

        The great medieval physician and philosopher Maimonides (c 1138) had a chicken soup recipe.

        Version here.

        https://www.travelujah.com/tips/holiday-tips/jewish-holidays/maimonides-chicken-soup

        There is some science to it as chicken soup provides essential nutrients and fluids, is easy to digest and tastes good. Never tried that version but Mrs. has her own which has worked miracles for years.

        Matzoh balls are terrific but optional.

      2. Change Your Life Right Now! Work From Comfort Of Your Home And Receive Your First Paycheck Within A Week. No Experience Needed, No Boss Over Your Shoulder… KPo.Say Goodbye To Your Old Job! Limited Number Of Spots Open…
        Find out how HERE……Detail here

  2. Great! Now open up businesses and stop hammering poor people, state governors.

    1. Think of the 89 year old children!

  3. Please tell us the top-flight scientists at Hillsdale, Regent, Liberty, Biola, Wheaten, Oral Roberts, Grove City, Ave Maria, Patrick Henry, and Ouachita Baptist are on the case!

    1. So tolerant and inclusive!

      1. Not to mention brave and worthwhile.

        Can’t have a proper pandemic without a sub-par internet troll like the Rev. kicking innocent Christian bystanders in the back.

    2. The top scientists at ivy leagues are busy discovering the fundamental truths of math and science how expecting correct answers is racist.

    3. Every bit as much as those top-flight scientists at Oberlin, Bryn Mawr, Amherst, Wellesley and Pomona.

      You really are a troll.

  4. How about one which can stem the spread of the manufactured panic?

  5. They got the dig in on Hydroxychloroquine & chloroquine.

    I don’t understand why this has become a hill people want to die on. Trump mentions it in a presser, and people just can’t handle that he is offering hope?

    Much of the fallout seemed to start with some liberal doctors on twitter saying these drugs have very dangerous side effects. That MAY be true, but I get the feeling these people were spreading panic. I do know tens of thousands of Americans use these drugs daily in malaria countries around the world- without serious side effects- not as a treatment, but as a long term preventative.

    I truly get the sense that Twitter has become the bane of all rationality. It is this tiny circle-jerk of people making hot takes without consequence. The forced brevity creates a culture of making conclusory statements, rather than balanced contexts. Everyone truly seems ok with such simple lines drawn, and take up sides appropriately.

    1. I don’t understand why this has become a hill people want to die on. Trump mentions it in a presser, and people just can’t handle that he is offering hope?

      It’s more than that. Trump mentions it in a presser, and then people start hoarding it.

      https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/23/health/states-drug-stockpile-coronavirus/index.html

      You have to remember, for a lot of Trump’s base, they get their news from Trump or his sycophants. They don’t get their news from the “librul fake news with their elitist ‘experts'”. So if Trump says do something, they are going to take it more seriously than you or I might. It is more than just “offering hope”, it is a proposed plan of action to these people. I see this myself with the people I know who are Trump supporters. They trust Trump implicitly. And that is why it’s dangerous for him to be offering unproven medical advice off the cuff at a news conference.

      1. It’s a prescription drug. You can’t just hoard it. You need a doctor to agree to it. Most of the drug was prescribed to doctors and their families. I guess all the doctors were getting their advice from Trump too

        1. The people mentioned in the cited article *were* doctors. Sure there are Trump-supporting doctors who listen to Trump for advice too. Maybe they just want to get ahead of the curve when the panic-stricken patients show up at their door demanding a prescription for the drugs. I don’t know. But Trump’s comments at the press conference were not as benign as just “offering hope” as evidenced by what actually transpired.

          This is one of Trump’s big problems: he does not display a lot of wisdom in the use of his authority, in both his formal and informal capacities.

          1. “This is one of Trump’s big problems: he does not display a lot of wisdom in the use of his authority, in both his formal and informal capacities.”

            Jeff, who regularly posts lies and general TDS bullshit here, thinks his oh, so, considered further dose of TDS will somehow suggest he’s other than a lying lefty piece of crap.
            Jeff, your rep is deserved, very well earned, and as a result, most everything you post is considered bullshit.

            1. Never change, Sevo. Never change.

              1. “Never change, Sevo. Never change.”

                Don’t worry; calling lefty fucking ignoramuses is a real pleasure.
                And we don’t have to worry about you; lefty assholes make themselves known, and we’ve yet to see a single one change.

                1. How about righty fucking ignoramuses? Do they deserve a measure of opprobrium?

                  1. So you are suggesting we ‘look over there!’, you pathetic piece of lefty shit?
                    Thanks for proving your rep is deserved and you are a pathetic piece of lefty shit.

                    1. Actually, I am suggesting that you are a bitter old man.

                    2. “Actually, I am suggesting that you are a bitter old man.”

                      You can’t seem to understand that honesty sort of requires pointing out what a fucking, constant liar you are.
                      I’m certainly not bitter; I’m merely being honest, you pathetic piece of lefty shit.

          2. So you’re saying that doctors were swayed by trumps press conference as opposed to the two studies released prior mentioning that there may be a benefit? Also prescriptions aren’t written out before to ‘get ahead of the curve’.
            As you said above ‘I don’t know’.
            Bingo. You nailed it.

            1. Then fine, you explain this:


              “Currently, both nationally and in West Virginia, some prescribers have begun writing prescriptions for these drugs for family, friends, and coworkers in anticipation of Covid-19 related illness,” according to the West Virginia regulation, using the medical term for the disease caused by the coronavirus. “This is leading to a shortage of the drug both for patients prescribed the drug for issues unrelated to Covid-19 and potentially to individuals suffering from the effects of Covid-19.”

              One pharmacist tweeted that she’s worried about shortages for patients who are legitimately using the drugs.
              Katherine Rowland, a pharmacist in Oregon, wrote Sunday that a dentist tried to call in prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine “for himself, his wife & another couple (friends.). NOPE. I have patients with lupus that have been on HCQ for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”

              Sure sounds like those doctors are abusing the prescription system.

        2. Psychoticjeff rejects the concept of agency and personal responsibility (except when he wants to blame his own bigotry on someone)

          1. Like when you blame the media for whipping people into a frenzy about the coronavirus, right?

            1. You mean blaming the media for spreading bullshit, right?
              Do lefties get anti-dizzy meds to help them when they spin that much?
              Hint: You really aren’t real bright. Your bullshit is obvious from 30 paces. The only way you could possibly help your rep now would be to STFU.

              1. You mean blaming the media for spreading bullshit, right?

                Does Trump ever spread bullshit? Ever?

                1. “Does Trump ever spread bullshit? Ever?”

                  Do you, ever, answer with anything other than a misdirection, lie, general bullshit, innuendo?
                  Nope, I didn’t think so.
                  Don’t worry, you pathetic piece of lefty shit; your rep is secure. You, Tony, turd and several others are famous for your dishonesty.
                  Fuck off and die a slow, painful death. Make the world a better place.

  6. Thanks for the update Ron.

    I’m not big on vaccines, but this is one I’d gladly take.

    1. Flagged, pimp.

    1. Flagged, pimp.

    1. Flagged, pimp.

    1. Flagged, pimp.
      Ain’t Reason’s software wonderful? Why, I’ll bet it cost my entire 2019 $5.00 contribution!

  7. Relying on “evidence based medicine” kills a whole lot of people.
    Fuck clinical trials. Look at how much chloroquine and hydrochloroquine is administered by a hospital, divided by # of patients and compare outcomes. Quantify the anecdotes and adjust later for other factors.

    1. Performing scientific experiments on innocent people which could lead to death is generally frowned upon.

    2. There is certainly something to your point. It seems to me that in general we could still see an instance of “science” without the snail pace rigor…. Especially in drugs that are already approved.

  8. I predict no effective vaccine comes. Best case is they come up with a vaccine partially effective on one of the previous year strains and pretend it helps as placebo-prophylaxis.

    1. I agree, they keep comparing this to the flu however this is not an influenza virus but from the same family as the Common Cold and there has never to my knowledge been an effective vaccine for the cold.

  9. Will this really help at all?

  10. Will this help us at all.
    Kindly share your views.
    ~ FbJaharStatus

  11. “Based on largely anecdotal evidence, the FDA of”

    There’s not some “anecdotal” reality that doesn’t count, like the mirror dimension in Marvel. It’s simply revolting to see Ron go the cargo cult science route of the medical #DeepState, dismissing the facts of reality as “anecdotal”.

    If you’re going to be a moron on science, can’t you at least not be a #DeepState moron at a “libertarian” magazine?

    And then Ron refers to two studies *from the CCP*. Is Reason now shilling for the CCP? Why would any grown up besides #DementiaJoe refer to any officially released medical information from China as if it is anything but CCP propaganda?

    Sad.

    1. China has been ramping up research in all areas for decades. They are major contributors to the scientific community at this point.

      They are also major contributors to badly done scientific studies… so is Europe and the US. It kinda goes with the territory.

      1. “I’m a CCP shill.”

    2. Also, Ron doesn’t mention ivermectin or any nutritional supplements like Vitamin D3.

      Pooh pooh hydroxychloroquine, ignore ivermection and nutritional supplements.

      Reason is downplaying any cures that are off patent. How odd. Whatever could explain that reporting bias?

  12. Fuck gates and fuck anything he puts money into. Goddamn he’s a parasite.

    1. Parasite?

      You keep using that whord…. I do not think it means what you think it means….

      /inigomontoya

  13. Should dicover vaccine asap !
    so Neoliftplan customized campaigns to meet your organizational requirements and campaign goals.

  14. For those who don’t follow such things, this is exactly how early research looks. Small, poorly designed preliminary studies show marginal but promising results… then larger, better designed studies start showing negative results, or smaller effect sizes…. eventually large, well designed studies show negative results.

    It is an expected feature of the medical treatment testing process.

    Unless a treatment offers large effect sizes, it is often difficult to parse out confounding effects absent large, expensive and time consuming trials.

  15. So, there’s no magic cure. There’s no magic cure for anything. Even with a vaccine for the flu, we have somewhere around 20,000 – 80,000 people dying *every* year.

    At the end of the day, being healthy increases your chance of shrugging off this disease … just like everything else.

    I guess we all stay locked down in a repressive, totalitarian state until a miracle emerges.

    Sounds like a plan.

  16. Need a disciplined attitude to fight coronavirus

  17. While the State Science Institute, Center for Disease Collectivization and Wuhan Health Organization shrug off vaccine questions, antique methods become apropos. Herbal Antivirals by Stephen Buhner contains a chapter on Coronaviruses. Health workers in Maine are finding it useful and it is a clearer guide through the swamp of jargon than anything else I’ve seen lately. I downloaded it on Amazon to read on a tablet.

  18. Okay, so I have a drug that I give to everyone on a ventilator or intensive care at a large hospital that has covid. Let’s say it is 100 people. ALmost All of them are cured and go home a few weeks later. Do you really think I need to have a control group to establish whether the drug works?

    This is the type of effectiveness people are looking for and when a drug is that effective you really don’t need to run controls. If you want to get picky you can use the results for patients prior to them who have not used the drug to establish EXACTLY how well it worked.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.