The Wuhan Institute of Virology, China Academy of Sciences, has filed for a patent on Remdesivir, an antiviral experimental drug from US biotechnology firm Gilead Sciences, which may help treat the novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019).
Scientists are also testing the drug chloroquine as part of a drug discovery approach, where existing antiviral medicines are tested to see if they are effective against a new infection.
Wuhan is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed hundreds in China and infected thousands. With the virus spreading to other countries around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) last week.
What are these drugs?
Remdesivir is an experimental drug and has not yet been licensed or approved anywhere globally. It has “not been demonstrated to be safe or effective for any use,” Gilead maintains. It is currently being developed for the treatment of Ebola virus infection.
In a statement, the Wuhan Institute of Virology said Remdesivir and chloroquine may “effectively inhibit” the novel coronavirus.
The scientists also wrote a paper titled, “Remdesivir and chloroquine effectively inhibit the recently emerged novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in vitro”, which was published in the journal Cell Research on Tuesday (February 4). Chloroquine is a “widely used” anti-malarial and autoimmune disease medicine that has recently come to light as a potential antiviral drug.
“Our findings reveal that remdesivir and chloroquine are highly effective in the control of 2019-nCoV infection in vitro. Since these compounds have been used in human patients with a safety track record and shown to be effective against various ailments, we suggest that they should be assessed in human patients suffering from the novel coronavirus disease,” the study suggests.
Can Remdesivir treat coronavirus?
While it has not been officially approved yet, at the request of treating physicians, “who have weighed the risks and benefits of providing an experimental drug with no date in 2019-nCoV”, the company has provided Remdesivir for use in a few patients infected with the novel coronavirus.
Even so, the use of the experimental drug has been allowed only as an emergency treatment, which can be administered in the absence of any other approved treatment options. Furthermore, Gilead is working with health authorities in China to establish trials that can demonstrate if Remdesivir is effective against the coronavirus.
Significantly, Remdesivir has demonstrated in vivo (experimentation using a whole living organism) and in vitro (activity performed in a controlled environment) activity in animal models against viral pathogens that cause MERS and SARS.
These two diseases are also caused by coronaviruses structurally similar to the nCoV-2019. Additionally, limited clinical data is available from the emergency administration of Remdesivir in patients with Ebola.
Even so, it is yet to be seen if Remdesivir and chloroquine can be effective against the novel coronavirus in humans.
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How can the novel coronavirus infection be treated?
As of now, there is no known treatment for the novel coronavirus, and an appropriate antiviral drug is required for this. Ideally, a vaccine against the infection can also prove to be effective, but such a development does not seem to be in the offing for at least three-four months.
For instance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has announced that it will commit over $11 million and try to have a viable vaccine for the novel coronavirus within 16 weeks, after which it will be tested for safety and efficacy.
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Therefore, because of the relatively lesser time that antiviral drugs may take as against vaccines, scientists are trying to develop new antiviral drugs, and are also looking at existing drugs that may be able to treat the infection.
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