Despite flimsy evidence, trying these drugs in humans is the only way to know if they will work against COVID-19
By Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News on February 13, 2020
As the scientific community scrambles to find a drug that can effectively treat tens of thousands of patients sickened by a new respiratory virus, they are trying some surprising remedies: medicines targeting known killers like HIV, Ebola and malaria.
American drugmakers have shipped two antiviral medications to China as doctors and public health officials there seek an effective treatment for patients sickened by the novel coronavirus, which has recently been named COVID19. The virus has afflicted tens of thousands of people worldwide and killed more than 1,300. Most of the cases and deaths occurred in Hubei province, China, where the outbreak began.
Among potential remedies is an HIV medication that may work to block an enzyme needed by the virus to mature. An unapproved medicine used to fight the Ebola virus is being tested in Chinese patients to see whether it can disrupt the new virus’s genetic material.
A third drug, widely used around the globe to fight the parasite that causes malaria, is also being tried in China to see if it can slow infection by preventing the virus from infiltrating cells.
The evidence behind some of these medicines is flimsy, researchers acknowledged. But even with strong data, they said, human trials are the only way to know whether these drugs are effective.
“Just because it works well in a test tube and in animals doesn’t mean that it will work in people,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa.
The effort is not unprecedented.