A combination of 3 antiviral drugs appears to show some promise in treating COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, Reuters reports. However, the results of the small study are preliminary and must be considered in the context of multiple other studies that have been considered as a treatment for the deadly pandemic.
A study of 127 patients, sickened with COVID-19, in Hong Kong saw two groups of test subjects treated side-by-side for comparison. One group, a test group, was given a combination of three drugs: lopinavir–ritonavir, which is used to treat HIV/AIDS; ribavirin, which treats hepatitis; and interferon beta, which treats multiple sclerosis. A control group was given only the HIV medicine.
The patients in the control group soon had no detectable traces of SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of the pathogen that is colloquially being referred to as the "novel coronavirus") after 12 days. In the test group, patients were fully recovered after just 7 days -- 5 days earlier than the patients in the control group.
Lead researcher Kwok-Yung Yuen, of the University of Hong Kong, expressed the results of his findings in a statement.
"Our trial demonstrates that early treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 with a triple combination of antiviral drugs may rapidly suppress the amount of virus in a patient's body [and] relieve symptoms," he said.
The researcher also noted that, in giving the drug to sickened patients, a secondary benefit could potentially be that the drug indirectly saves the lives of healthcare workers treating them. That's because, in suppressing the virus so quickly, the patient spends less time in a phase of "viral shedding" -- that is, when the virus is most active and most transmittable.
The results of the Hong Kong team's study are the latest in an ever-growing list of possible therapies that have shown promise, however limited, in treating the illness caused by the coronavirus. For example, as previously reported by The Inquisitr, the antiviral drug remdesivir has also shown promise in treating the illness, the drug's manufacturer announced in late April.
However, the process of declaring a drug, or a combination of drugs, effective against an illness and safe for humans to use is a time-consuming and exacting one that take years, not months or weeks, and involves multiple steps, of which small-scale human testing is just one, early step.
Indeed, Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, noted that the Hong Kong team's research is merely a starting point.
"This... definitely justifies the consideration of adding interferon beta to the list of genuinely, evidence-based, promising treatments to be tested in further randomised trials," Evans said.
It's a sentiment shared by Yuen, who noted that studies with more patients, and sicker patients, are necessary before any conclusions can be reached about the combination's effectiveness.