Coronavirus cure: treatments currently being tested

While the world waits for an effective coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, many existing drugs have been touted as a potential coronavirus cure. Current treatment varies depending on severity, with bedrest and paracetamol recommended as treatment for symptoms in mild cases. Cases in which patients develop respiratory problems are given supplemental oxygen and assisted ventilation if necessary.
Coronavirus cure: what treatments are in development?

Is there a cure for coronavirus?

There is currently no proven cure for coronavirus, although many trials are currently taking place to discover whether existing drugs could be used as effective treatment. Scientists are also racing against the clock to develop new experimental treatments for coronavirus.

Here is an outline of the promising drugs and experimental treatments that could be used to cure coronavirus, with updates on trials currently taking place in the UK.

What types of drugs might work as a cure for coronavirus?

There are a number of different approaches to treatment of coronavirus, though most can be grouped into three different categories:

  • Antiviral drugs

These limit the ability of viruses to replicate inside the body.

  • Drugs which treat the immune system

These drugs specifically treat an overreaction of the immune system which is thought to occur in the most severe coronavirus cases.

  • Antibody treatments

These fight the virus directly, and can be either taken from survivor’s blood or are made in a lab.

Antiviral treatments for coronavirus

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have gained a lot of media coverage primarily because of Donald Trump’s claims that they could be used to treat coronavirus. A trial for chloroquine, which is an anti-malarial medication, had to be stopped in Brazil after patients developed heart problems.

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria, as well as other conditions such as arthritis and lupus. Research on the effectiveness of using hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus have so far not shown any conclusive results. The FDA has cautioned against the use of both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine outside of a hospital setting.

Heartburn treatment famotidine (pepcid)

A component of common heartburn medication pepcid is being investigated as a possible treatment for coronavirus. Famotidine works as a histamine receptor blocker. Histamines are vital components of the body’s immune system, and famotidine specifically works to block the overproduction of histamines in the stomach, which can lead to increased production of stomach acid.

Although famotidine may not be an obvious choice for coronavirus treatment, there is evidence that the heartburn medication could bind to a key enzyme relied upon by the coronavirus molecule to replicate, preventing it from doing so.

The drug is being tested for effectiveness in a clinical trial in New York by Northwell Health, a healthcare provider which runs 23 hospitals in the state. Researchers have stressed that there is still no clear indication that it could work as a coronavirus treatment, and that members of the public should not stockpile or take the drug for this reason.

Head lice medication ivermectin

A study from Monash University in Australia has shown that a ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasitic infections, scabies, and head lice, has proven effective at inhibiting the replication of coronavirus molecules in test tubes.

Ivermectin is a drug with antiviral properties and has previously been tested as treatment for other viruses such as dengue and yellow fever. The drug has yet to be tested as a coronavirus treatment on humans, although a proposed study is set to investigate its effectiveness as treatment on coronavirus patients.

Research on the use of ivermectin as a coronavirus treatment is taking place at Monash University in Australia (pictured).

“Breakthrough drug ” remdesivir

American biopharmaceutical company Gilead has been testing the effectiveness of remdesivir, an antiviral drug which has previously been used to treat Ebola, as well as coronaviruses MERS and SARS.

The drug is part of the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trial on coronavirus patients in over 400 hospitals worldwide.

Some news outlets have gone so far as to describe the results from remdesivir as a “breakthrough” in terms of coronavirus treatment, however, it will still need to be subject to thorough testing in order to guarantee safety and effectiveness.

The UK government has approved the use of remdesivr for the treatment of coronavirus in selected patients, saying there is enough evidence to prove that it reduces recovery time for patients. The use of the drug will continue to be monitored across the UK.

Herbal cure promoted by Madagascan president

A supposed coronavirus cure has been promoted in Madagascar by the president of the country, Andry Rajoelina, as well as a number of other African heads of state. The herbal tea, marketed as Covid Organics, is reportedly made from Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood).

Although the plant Artemesia annua does have some medicinal properties, and extracts from it have been proven to have antimalarial properties, no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of the drink as a cure for coronavirus.

Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) plant used to make COVID organics drink in Madagascar. There is no scientific evidence the drink is effective.

Drugs that treat the immune system

Rheumatoid arthritis drug actemra

Other drugs which have been labeled as potential treatments for coronavirus are medications which are already in use for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disease is when the body mistakenly attacks itself.

In some of the most severe cases of coronavirus, an overreaction of the immune system is thought to worsen the overall condition of the patient. Roche’s actemra (tocilizumab), a rheumatoid arthritis drug, is currently being tested as part of the Recovery trial in the UK.

HIV treatment leronlimab

HIV treatment Leronlimab has been marked as a potential coronavirus treatment candidate for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. The drug is being tested on small groups in Canada and the US.

Gout medication colchicine

Gout medication colchicine is being tested as a treatment for coronavirus patients who have yet to be hospitalised. The anti-inflammatory is currently being tested for effectiveness in multiple trials.

Antibody treatments

Antibodies are a protein produced by the immune system to help the body fight infection. A number of potential treatments are based upon using antibodies to help patients recover or to ward off infection.

Plasma therapy

There has been some reported success with plasma transfusion in coronavirus patients in Japan and China. This is when blood is donated from people who have recovered from the virus is infused into patients who are fighting the infection. In theory the antibodies from the recovered patients should help those who receive the plasma to fight the virus. The NHS has recently announced a clinical trial of plasma therapy to measure its effectiveness.

Blood donation for plasma therapy, one of the treatments being tested for effectiveness on coronavirus patients

Synthetic antibodies

The development of synthetic antibodies to treat coronavirus could be a landmark development in finding a cure. Whereas a vaccine teaches the body how to create antibodies to fight a disease, a synthetic antibody treatment would inject patients directly with the antibodies to help them neutralize coronavirus, without inducing long-lasting immunity.

A number of different synthetic antibody treatments are in development in different countries, with some having reported success in animal testing phases. None have so far been tested on humans, although some are scheduled to begin clinical trials this summer.

Other coronavirus treatments

Nitric Oxide

Usually used to treat patients in respiratory distress, nitric oxide is being tested as a possible coronavirus treatment. It is thought that the use of nitric oxide therapy could increase oxygen levels in critically ill patients.

The treatment is currently being tested in clinical trials in the US.

United Arab Emirates stem cell treatment

A stem cell treatment has been developed in the United Arab Emirates and is currently undergoing clinical trials. The treatment involves extracting stem cells from the patient’s blood, which is then turned into an aerosol mist which is inhaled by the patient. The mist should then cover their damaged lung cells and encourage them to repair themselves.

This method of treatment does not neutralise the virus, but helps critically ill patients recover.

The stem cell treatment being developed in the UAE is currently being evaluated in clinical trials, and as of yet there is no conclusive evidence as to its effectiveness and safety.

Which drugs are being tested as a possible coronavirus cure in the UK?

One of the largest drug trials in the world for coronavirus treatment is taking place in the UK. The University of Oxford’s Recovery trial aims to recruit 5,000 participants in total. The following drugs form part of the trial:

  • Lopinavir/ritonavir

  • Dexamethasone (a type of steroid which is usually used as an anti-inflammatory)

  • Hydroxychloroquine

  • Azithromycin (a commonly used antibiotic)

  • Tocilizumab (actemra)

  • Convalescent plasma therapy

A number of other trials are taking place at a number of different hospitals in the UK, including a plasma therapy trial at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.

Can dietary supplements such as zinc, vitamin c and selenium cure coronavirus?

Vitamin deficiencies might make coronavirus more severe, however, dietary supplements cannot cure coronavirus.

Dietary supplements have not been proven to cure coronavirus, although there is some evidence that low levels of selenium, zinc and vitamin C could result in patients suffering more serious symptoms when they contract coronavirus.