• Scientists around the globe are taking a shot at likely medicines and immunizations for the new coronavirus ailment known as COVID-19.
• Several organizations are chipping away at antiviral medications, some of which are as of now being used against different sicknesses, to treat individuals who as of now have COVID-19.
• Other organizations are dealing with antibodies that could be utilized as a preventive measure against the ailment.
With affirmed COVID-19 cases overall outperforming 9 million and proceeding to develop, researchers are pushing forward with endeavors to create antibodies and medicines to slow the pandemic and decrease the ailment’s harm.
Some of the earliest treatments will likely be drugs that are already approved for other conditions or have been tested on other viruses.
“People are looking into whether existing antivirals might work or whether new drugs could be developed to try to tackle the virus,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.
As of May 8, two medications had received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the antiviral redeliver and a drug used to sedate people on a ventilator.
The FDA issued a EUA in March for the antimalaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine but later revoked it after studies showed that they’re unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19.
A EUA allows doctors to use these drugs to treat people with COVID-19 even before the medications have gone through the formal FDA approval process.
These drugs are still being tested in clinical trials to see whether they’re effective against COVID-19. This step is needed to make sure the medications are safe for this particular use and what the proper dosage should be.
It could be months before treatments are available that are known to work against COVID-19. It could be even longer for a vaccine.
But there are still other tools we can use to reduce the damage done by the new coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
“Even though technological advances allow us to do certain things more quickly,” Lee told Healthline, “We still have to rely on social distancing, contact tracing, self-isolation, and other measures.”
Speeding up vaccine development
Some scientists argue that a “human challenge trial” could speed up the vaccine clinical trials — potentially shaving months off the timeline.
In this type of trial, healthy volunteers are given a potential vaccine and then intentionally infected with the virus.
Usually, researchers wait for a person given a test vaccine to naturally contract the virus. Then they look at how well the person was protected by the vaccine.
There are no plans for this kind of study in the United States, but nearly 30,000 people in more than 140 countries have signed up to take part.
A human challenge trial raises many ethical questions. One is that there’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus and disease, including who will get seriously ill or die from COVID-19.
That means people can’t really know the risks of participating in the study, so they wouldn’t be able to give high-quality informed consent. This is an essential part of modern clinical trials.
Given the scope of the pandemic, though, some experts think this type of trial will happen eventually.
In preparation for this, the World Health Organization recently released ethical guidelines to navigate these tricky waters.
Meanwhile, some clinical trials are underway in Israel, the Netherlands, and Australia to see whether existing vaccines for tuberculosis might also protect against SARS-CoV-2.
The polio vaccine is another possible option. Scientists think these vaccines might boost the immune system just enough to fight off the new coronavirus, although there’s no evidence yet to confirm this theory.
Two U.S. researchers suggest that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine might offer protection against inflammation and sepsis in people with COVID-19. They recommend starting a clinical trial with the MMR vaccine in healthcare workers.
There’s no guarantee any of the vaccine candidates will work.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with vaccine development,” Lee said. “Naturally, you have to make sure the vaccine is safe. But you also have to make sure the vaccine will elicit enough of an immune response.”
Like drugs, potential vaccines have to pass through the same clinical trial stages. This is especially important when it comes to safety, even during a pandemic.
“The public’s willingness to back quarantines and other public-health measures to slow spread tends to correlate with how much people trust the government’s health advice,” Shibo Jiang, a virologist at Fudan University in China, wrote in the journal Nature.
“A rush into potentially risky vaccines and therapies will betray that trust and discourage work to develop better assessments,” he wrote.
Clinical trial stages
• Phase I. The drug is given to a small number of healthy people and people with a disease to look for side effects and figure out the best dose.
• Phase II. The drug is given to several hundred people who have the disease, looking to see whether it works and if there are any side effects that weren’t caught during the initial testing.
• Phase III. In this large-scale trial, the drug is given to several hundred or even up to 3,000 people. A similar group of people takes a placebo or inactive compound. The trial is usually randomized and can take 1 to 4 years. This stage provides the best evidence of how the drug works and the most common side effects.
• Phase IV. Drugs that are approved for use undergo continuous monitoring to make sure there are no other side effects, especially serious or long-term ones.