Could an HIV Drug Be the Coronavirus Cure Everyone Is Looking For?

As the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse, with no sign of stopping, the race for a cure is on.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread worldwide, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a pandemic, the race is on to find a cure. A possible answer could lie in an antiretroviral HIV treatment drug, or in antivirals.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO believe the antiviral drug remdesivir, developed by Gilead, has the most promise for providing treatment in the short term to those suffering. It was created as a treatment for Ebola virus and Marburg virus, but has shown some efficacy in combating other viruses, including SARS and MERS, both of which are also coronaviruses.

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Now comes the cold water: Remdesivir is currently not approved for any use.

As a result of this data, limited though it may be, as well as the serious nature of this pandemic, Gilead has been supplying remdesivir to those most in need under a compassionate use basis in the United States, China, and Italy.

The first U.S. patient treated with the drug, a 35-year-old Washington man, recovered, reports The Guardian, but, as Gilead notes on its site, “individual compassionate use cases are not sufficient to determine the safety and efficacy of remdesivir in treating COVID-19–this can only be determined through prospective clinical trials.”

The antiretroviral drug Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, developed by AbbVie, is also being tested to treat the deadly coronavirus. It contains the medications lopinavir and ritonavir, and is approved for use as an HIV treatment drug. It is also now being used on an experimental basis to treat COVID-19.

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AbbVie donated the medication to the Chinese government for use against the disease and said on Monday that unconfirmed media reports out of the country claimed it was proving effective, according to RTTNews.

The company also noted, however, that it did not have access to Chinese clinical information, and so could not confirm nor deny the accuracy of those reports. AbbVie is currently working with global health authorities to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy for treating COVID-19, including the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It said it also did not anticipate disruption to the supply of the medication for those living with HIV.

Virologist Timothy Sheahan told The Guardian his “personal feeling is that things like Kaletra are not going to be efficacious.”

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“I’m skeptical that a very specific drug for HIV protease is going to work against a coronavirus,” he continued. “We did head-to-head studies in mice and cells comparing remdesivir and lopinavir, and lopinavir didn’t work as well.”

He did say, however, that he still felt testing Kaletra, as well as hepatitis drugs, which are also being looked to as a possible treatment, was worth the effort in spite of his feeling that “chances of finding something very useful” were low.

The COVID-19 U.S. death toll has risen to 31, with the global number now above 4,300. The number of confirmed cases currently exceeds 121,000 worldwide.

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