Coronavirus pandemic: WHO announces 'solidarity trial' to evaluate untested drugs that could be used in treatment
This large, international study is designed to generate the robust data we need, to show which treatments are the most effective, the WHO chief said
The World Health Organization (WHO) is initiating an international trial to evaluate untested but promising treatments for COVID-19.
"This large, international study is designed to generate the robust data we need, to show which treatments are the most effective. We have called this study the SOLIDARITY trial," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing Wednesday, March 18.
To that end, the UN health agency is partnering with Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand. Tedros added that more countries are expected to join.
The drugs that will be under study include antiviral drug remdesivir, a combination of two HIV drugs - lopinavir-ritonavir and lopinavir-ritonavir, and the antimalarial drug chloroquine. A couple of small studies have shown that these drugs offer hopes. But “multiple small trials with different methodologies may not give us the clear strong evidence we need about which treatments help to save lives,” Tedros said during a briefing in Geneva. So all partner countries are coming together to evaluate and compare untested treatments with each other.
Multiple trials from around the world
China and the US have initiated clinical trials to evaluate remdesivir - an unapproved drug that was created to fight Ebola. Scientists have found encouraging results with a Japanese flu drug. The drug named favipiravir was tested on 340 patients in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen.
“It has a high degree of safety and is effective in treatment,” Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, told reporters on Tuesday, March 17. Further, China has been evaluating a combination of lopinavir-ritonavir. But a new trial found that the drug did not work when tested on a group of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
The death rate was high: 22% of the 199 participants died. This was “substantially higher than the 11% to 14.5% mortality reported in initial descriptive studies of hospitalized patients with Covid-19,” the authors wrote.
The team adds that further studies need to evaluate whether a combination of lopinavir-ritonavir and other antiviral agents works. A cheap antimalarial drug called chloroquine is also offering hopes. Some countries are also looking at a less toxic derivative of chloroquine called hydroxychloroquine.
A French infectious disease doctor posted a video detailing the effects of the antimalarial drug on COVID-19 patients. After treating 24 patients with the drug, the virus disappeared in 75% of the cases in just six days. Following this, a French pharmaceutical company Sanofi said it was ready to offer the government millions of does of hydroxychloroquine sold under the brand name Plaquenil, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports.
A bigger trial to evaluate its efficacy is in the works. These new clinical trials "will be carried out with a team independent from Professor (Didier) Raoult", French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told AFP.