CORONAVIRUS VACCINE DEVELOPMENTS

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette.

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. So sooner or later, we are going to come up with a permanent solution for this virus too.

Vaccine developments

With confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassing 9 million and continuing to grow, scientists are pushing forward with efforts to develop vaccines and treatments to slow the pandemic and lessen the disease’s damage. Some of the earliest treatments will likely be drugs that are already approved for other conditions, or have been tested on other viruses.

As of May 8, two medications had received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the antiviral remdesivir and a drug used to sedate people on a ventilator.

The FDA issued a EUA in March for the antimalaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, but later revoked it after studies showed that they’re unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19.

EUA allows doctors to use these drugs to treat people with COVID-19 even before the medications have gone through the formal FDA approval process. These drugs are still being tested in clinical trials to see whether they’re effective against COVID-19. This step is needed to make sure the medications are safe for this particular use and what the proper dosage should be.

It could be months before treatments are available that are known to work against COVID-19. It could be even longer for a vaccine. But there are still other tools we can use to reduce the damage done by the new coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.

Antivirals

Remdesivir: Developed a decade ago, this drug failed in clinical trials against Ebola in 2014. But it was found to be generally safe in people. Research with MERS, a disease caused by a different coronavirus, showed that the drug blocked the virus from replicating. The drug is being tested in many COVID-19 clinical trials around the world. This includes studies in which remdesivir is being administered alongside other drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib. The drug is also being tested in children with moderate to severe COVID-19. In late April, the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, announced one of its trials had been “terminated” due to low enrollment. Gilead officials said the results of that trial had been “inconclusive” when it was ended.

A few days later, the company announced that preliminary data from another trial of remdesivir overseen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had “met its primary endpoint.” Gary Schwitzer, founder of HealthNewsReview.org, though, said the researchers changed the primary endpoint 2 weeks before Fauci’s announcement. Schwitzer compared that to moving football goalposts closer to make it easier to get a touchdown. At the same time, another study published in The Lancet reported that participants in a clinical trial who took remdesivir showed no benefits compared to people who took a placebo.

Despite the conflicting results, the FDA issued an order on May 1 for the emergency use of remdesivir. In early June, federal officials announced their supply of remdesivir will run out by the end of June. Gilead is ramping up production, but it’s unclear how much of the drug will be available this summer.

Arbidol: This antiviral was tested along with the drug lopinavir/ritonavir as a treatment for COVID-19. Researchers reported in mid-April that the two drugs didn’t improve the clinical outcomes for people hospitalized with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

EIDD-2801: This drug was created by scientists at a nonprofit biotech company owned by Emory University. Research in mice has shown that it can reduce replication of multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

Pharmaceutical company Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP signed an agreement in May to develop this drug. It’s already being tested in a clinical trial in the United Kingdom. Unlike remdesivir, EIDD-2801 can be taken orally, which would make it available to a larger number of people.

Favipiravir: This drug is approved in some countries outside the United States to treat influenza. Some reports from China suggest it may work as a treatment for COVID-19. These results, though, haven’t been published yet. Japan, where the medication is made, is sending the drug to 43 countries for clinical trial testing in people with mild or moderate COVID-19. Canadian researchers are testing to see whether the drug can help fight outbreaks in long-term care homes.

Kaletra: This is a combination of two drugs — lopinavir and ritonavir — that work against HIV. Clinical trials are being done to see whether it also works against SARS-CoV-2. One small study published May 4 in the journal Med by Cell Press found that lopinavir/ritonavir didn’t improve outcomes in people with mild or moderate COVID-19 compared to those receiving standard care.

Another study, published May 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug combination wasn’t effective for people with severe COVID-19. But another study found that people who were given lopinavir/ritonavir along with two other drugs — ribavirin and interferon beta-1b — took less time to clear the virus from their body. This study was published May 8 in The Lancet.

Merimepodib (VX-497): This drug developed by ViralClear Pharmaceuticals Inc. has been shown previously to have antiviral and immune-suppressing effects. It was tested against hepatitis C but had only modest effects.

The company is running a phase II trial of this drug. People with advanced COVID-19 will be randomized to receive either merimepodib with remdesivir, or remdesivir plus a placebo. The company hopes to have results by late summer of this year.