Researchers have proposed two therapies – experimental antiviral drug and plasma transfusions -- to treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
A research team at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) reported that Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir successfully prevented and treated the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrom) coronavirus in monkeys.
The team published the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Thursday.
Gilead had initially planned to develop remdesivir as a treatment for the Ebola virus. The company is testing the investigational drug to treat COVID-19 infection in a randomized, controlled trial in China. Physicians use the yet-unauthorized agent for compassionate use in treating some patients.
Chinese researchers at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing are conducting the phase-3 study on remdesivir in 270 patients with mild to severe symptoms caused by the new coronavirus infection. The study began on Feb. 3 and is to be completed by April 27.
Gilead said remdesivir was positive in both in vitro and in vivo activity in animal models against SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS coronaviruses.
In a recent in vitro study, the agent also showed effects against the new coronavirus, and the results were announced as a letter to the editor of Cell Research, a journal by Nature.
The NIAID’s report evaluated the preventive and therapeutic effect of remdesivir against the MERS coronavirus in long-tailed monkeys and rhesus macaques. Remdesivir prevented MERS virus infection in monkeys that received remdesivir in advance. The agent improved symptoms in the monkeys already infected with the virus.
“The scientists indicate that the promising study results support additional clinical trials of remdesivir for MERS-CoV and 2019-nCoV (COVID-19),” the research team at the NIAID said.
Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that the findings of this study in primates with MERS are “quite encouraging.” He supported further investigation to use remdesivir in human trials, both for preventative and therapeutic use in those with severe infections with the new coronavirus.
Glatter emphasized that remdesivir could be particularly useful for high-risk groups exposed to the virus, such as healthcare workers treating confirmed patients.
Plasma transfusion is another promising treatment for the novel coronavirus infection, Chinese officials said.
The latest edition of China’s National Health Commission’s guidelines on diagnosis and treatment of the new coronavirus states that the blood plasma of a patient recovered from the virus infection could help fight the disease.
Zhang Dingyu, director of Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, said in an interview with a Chinese media outlet that a new treatment using the plasma of the novel coronavirus-hit survivor was effective in other patients battling the virus. He said such plasma contained a large number of immune antibodies.
According to Zhang, more than 10 infected patients with severe symptoms saw their inflammatory markers go down and lymphocytes rise within 12-24 hours after receiving plasma transfusions, since Feb. 8.
He urged residents who recovered from the new coronavirus infection to donate plasma to help other infected patients.
Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University Hong Kong, said it was a good idea to transfer immunity from a survivor to a patient fighting the infection, according to news reports. He noted that doctors had already used the technique in influenza epidemics.