Early trial results for potential coronavirus treatments expected in three weeks, WHO says

Nurse Cao Shan prepare medicines for patients in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020.

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Preliminary results from two clinical trials testing potential treatments for the COVID-19 coronavirus are expected in three weeks, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

One trial combines HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir, while the other is testing U.S.-based biotech Gilead Sciences’ antiviral Remdesivir, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday at a news conference at the agency’s headquarters.

“Even if people are infected, having better outcomes, saving their lives, is really key,” Tedros said.

There are currently no proven therapies for the new virus, which has killed at least 2,130 people and sicked more than 75,700 worldwide, Dr. Janet Diaz, lead for Clinical Case Management in the WHO Health Emergencies programme, said Thursday.

Some scientists had claimed that anti-malaria drug Chloroquine could be a potential treatment for the new virus, but currently, there is “no proof” that it is effective, Diaz told reporters.

Local authorities in China have been using Gilead’s Remdesivir, which was tested as a possible treatment during the Ebola outbreak, to fight infections. Some authorities are also using antiviral drug Kaletra, a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, on a compassionate basis.

In the meantime, scientists are also working quickly to produce a vaccine candidate to be ready for human clinical trials.

U.S. health officials are fast-tracking work on a coronavirus vaccine, hoping to start an early-stage trial within the next two and a half months, the Trump administration said earlier this month.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said last week, that there could be new information on possible vaccine candidates in “weeks.”

Hopes to get a vaccine to market are high, but doctors want expectations to be low for how quickly it can happen. Developing, testing and reviewing any potential vaccine is a long, complex and expensive endeavor that could take months or even years, global health experts say.

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