A drug combo already used against HIV. A malaria treatment first tested during World War II. A new antiviral whose promise against Ebola fizzled last year.
Could any of these drugs hold the key to saving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients from serious harm or death? On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial, called SOLIDARITY, to find out whether any can treat infections with the new coronavirus for the dangerous respiratory disease.
It’s an unprecedented effort—an all-out, coordinated push to collect robust scientific data rapidly during a pandemic. The study, which could include many thousands of patients in dozens of countries, has been designed to be as simple as possible so that even hospitals overwhelmed by an onslaught of COVID-19 patients can participate.
Scientists have suggested dozens of existing compounds for testing, but WHO is focusing on what it says are the four most promising therapies:
- an experimental antiviral compound called remdesivir;
- the malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine;
- a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir; and
- that same combination plus interferon-beta, an immune system messenger that can help cripple viruses.
Some data on their use in COVID-19 patients have already emerged—the HIV combo failed in a small study in China—but WHO believes a large trial with a greater variety of patients is warranted.