With the announcement yesterday that a £5 steroid could cut coronavirus deaths by a third in the sickest patients, hopes are growing that the disease may soon become manageable.
Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug usually used to treat conditions like arthritis or severe asthma and allergies, is the first that stops people dying and is being rolled out widely.
Scientists are excited not just because they have found a treatment that works, but because it raises the possibility that more drugs will soon be discovered that will save more lives, or – if given in combination – may cure Covid-19 entirely.
Scientists from the Recovery (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 therapy) trial – who released the dexamethasone results yesterday – have ongoing trials into four more treatments which could radically improve survival, including a drug usually used to treat Delhi Belly, or traveller’s diarrhea.
Two more drugs are also showing promise. Here are the six drugs and treatments currently in British trials:
There are three ways to battle the virus: antivirals, anti-inflammatories or antibodies.
Antivirals prevent the virus from building to sufficient levels while anti-inflammatories stop the immune system from overreacting and mounting a lethal inflammatory response.
Antibodies are produced by the immune system to defend against an invader, and are boosted to high levels by a vaccine. But infusions of antibodies from recovered patients can also be used as a treatment to ramp up the body’s ability to fight a disease.
Lopinavir-Ritonavir is a combination of two antiviral drugs usually used to fight HIV. They work by inhibiting the enzymes required for the virus to replicate.
Trials have so far shown mixed results. A small study published in April of 86 patients at Guangzhou Eighth People’s Hospital, China, found the combination made no difference to the death rate or time to recovery.
But earlier tests on 199 patients at Jin Yin-Tan Hospital in China, showed those given the drug appeared to improve faster. Some experts believe it may help to give the treatment earlier.
When the Chinese results were released, Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology, University of Reading, said:. “Think bull in a china shop. If the bull is stopped as it leaves the shop the damage is already done but if it is stopped soon after entry, the damage is much reduced.”
Early in the outbreak, doctors in Thailand reported success in treating patients using a combination of HIV drugs alongside oseltamivir, a drug sold under the brand name Tamiflu to treat influenza.