Tuesday April 7, 2020

WHO Announces Global Trial To Look At 4 Most Promising Drugs For Treating Novel Coronavirus

The available data are thin and results from COVID-19 patients are murky

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Scientists have suggested dozens of existing compounds for testing but WHO is focusing on what it says are the four most promising therapies. Wikimedia Commons

At a time when nearly 70 drugs and experimental cocktails are being examined to treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a global trial called ‘SOLIDARITY to find out if any drug can actually treat infections with the new coronavirus.

The trial, 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, according to the prestigious journal Science.

Scientists have suggested dozens of existing compounds for testing but WHO is focusing on what it says are the four most promising therapies. These are “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,” said the article in the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Originally developed by Gilead to combat Ebola and related viruses, remdesivir shuts down viral replication by inhibiting a key viral enzyme, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. The first COVID-19 patient diagnosed in the US — a young man in Snohomish County, Washington state — was given remdesivir when his condition worsened and he improved the next day, according to a case report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

A Californian patient who received remdesivir recovered as well. When it comes to Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, the “WHO scientific panel designing SOLIDARITY had originally decided to leave the duo out of the trial but had a change of heart at a meeting in Geneva on 13 March, because the drugs “received significant attention” in many countries.”

The available data are thin and results from COVID-19 patients are murky. Chinese researchers who report treating more than 100 patients with chloroquine touted its benefits in a letter in BioScience, but the data underlying the claim have not been published. All in all, more than 20 COVID-19 studies in China used chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, WHO notes, but their results have been hard to come by.

“WHO is engaging with Chinese colleagues at the mission in Geneva and have received assurances of improved collaboration; however, no data has been shared regarding the chloroquine studies.” Researchers in France have published a study in which they treated 20 COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine. They concluded that the drug significantly reduced viral load in nasal swabs. But it was not a randomized controlled trial and it didn’t report clinical outcomes such as deaths.

“Hydroxychloroquine in particular might do more harm than good. The drug has a variety of side effects and can in rare cases harm the heart,” said the Science article. Ritonavir/lopinavir combination drug, sold under the brand name Kaletra, was approved in the US in 2000 to treat HIV infections.

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At a time when nearly 70 drugs and experimental cocktails are being examined to treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a global trial called ‘SOLIDARITY to find out if any drug can actually treat infections with the new coronavirus. Pixabay

The first trial with COVD-19 was not encouraging, however. Doctors in Wuhan, China, gave 199 patients two pills of lopinavir/ritonavir twice a day plus standard care, or standard care alone.

There was no significant difference between the groups, they reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on March 15. “But the authors caution that patients were very ill — more than a fifth of them died — and so the treatment may have been given too late to help.”

ALSO READ: Every Second Car to Be Electric by 2050: Experts

Ritonavir/lopinavir+interferon beta is an another option. A combination of the three drugs is now being tested in MERS patients in Saudi-Arabia in the first randomized controlled trial for that disease. (IANS)

Next Story

Find out How Coronavirus Pandemic Has Disrupted Global Food Supplies

Explainer: How Coronavirus Crisis Is Affecting Food Supply

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People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Havana, Cuba. VOA

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global food supplies and is causing labor shortages in agriculture worldwide. This is the latest health news.

Are there food shortages?

Panic buying by shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of staples such as pasta and flour as populations worldwide prepared for lockdowns.

Meat and dairy producers as well as fruit and vegetable farmers struggled to shift supplies from restaurants to grocery stores, creating the perception of shortages for consumers.

Retailers and authorities say there are no underlying shortages and supplies of most products have been or will be replenished. Bakery and pasta firms in Europe and North America have increased production.

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Food firms say panic purchasing is subsiding as households have stocked up and are adjusting to lockdown routines.

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Agricultural workers clean carrot crops of weeds amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a farm near Arvin, California, U.S. VOA

The logistics to get food from the field to the plate, however, are being increasingly affected and point to longer-term problems.

In the short term, lack of air freight and trucker shortages are disrupting deliveries of fresh food.

In the long term, lack of labor is affecting planting and harvesting and could cause shortages and rising prices for staple crops in a throwback to the food crises that shook developing nations a decade ago.

What’s disrupting the food supply?

With many planes grounded and shipping containers hard to find after the initial coronavirus crisis in China, shipments of vegetables from Africa to Europe or fruit from South America to the United States are being disrupted.

A labor shortage could also cause crops to rot in the fields.

As spring starts in Europe, farms are rushing to find enough workers to pick strawberries and asparagus, after border closures prevented the usual flow of foreign laborers. France has called on its own citizens to help offset an estimated shortfall of 200,000 workers.

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More wide-scale crop losses are looming in India, where a lockdown has sent masses of workers home, leaving farms and markets short of hands as staple crops like wheat near harvest.

Is food going to cost more?

Wheat futures surged in March to two-month highs, partly because of the spike in demand for bakery and pasta goods, while corn (maize) sank to a 3½-year low as its extensive use in biofuel exposed it to an oil price collapse.

Benchmark Thai white rice prices have already hit their highest level in eight years.

Swings in commodity markets are not necessarily passed on in prices of grocery goods, as food firms typically buy raw materials in advance. A sustained rise in prices will, however, eventually be passed on to consumers.

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A farmer feeds iceberg lettuce to his buffalo during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bhuinj village in Satara district in the western state of Maharashtra, India. VOA

Some poorer countries subsidize food to keep prices stable.

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The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that a rush to buy by countries that rely on imports of staple foods could fuel global food inflation, despite ample reserves of staple crops.

Fresh produce such as fruit or fish or unprocessed grains such as rice reflect more immediately changes in supply and demand.

Will there be enough food if the crisis lasts?

Analysts say global supplies of the most widely consumed food crops are adequate. Wheat production is projected to be at record levels in the year ahead.

Also Read- Every Hospital in US May Treat COVID-19 Patients: Health Human Service Agency

However, the concentration of exportable supply of some food commodities in a small number of countries and export restrictions by big suppliers concerned about having enough supply at home can make world supply more fragile than headline figures suggest.

Another source of tension in global food supply could be China. There are signs the country is scooping up foreign agricultural supplies as it emerges from its coronavirus shutdown and rebuilds its massive pork industry after a devastating pig disease epidemic. (VOA)