By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs against the new coronavirus and preliminary clinical trial results are weeks away, the co-chair of a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting said on Wednesday.
Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, a former WHO virologist, co-chaired the two-day, closed-door research forum in Geneva of more than 300 scientists and researchers, including some who took part virtually from China and Taiwan.
“The Chinese colleagues are very eager to participate in protocols which are being defined so that all the clinical trials are done according to the same standards and are looking towards the same outcome,” she told a news conference. “They were very interested in working on such a master protocol.”
The coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19, that emerged in central China in December has infected more than 44,000 people and killed over 1,100 in China and has spread to at least 24 other countries.
Kieny said quite a number of patients have already been dosed with a combination of the antiviral drugs ritonavir and lopinavir, but she did not have an exact count.
It “would be excellent if it would work because this drug is available in particular as a generic formulation for the treatment of HIV, so this would clearly be a drug that would be available,” Kieny said.
The combination HIV therapy is sold under the brand name Kaletra by AbbVie Inc <ABBV.N>.
It remains to be seen whether the treatment will prove effective against the new virus, she said. “We don’t know the result, and we still have to wait for a few days, or a few weeks to have a result.”
A state-run Chinese research institute applied last week for a patent on the use of the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir from U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc <GILD.O>, which scientists hope may be effective against the coronavirus.
“They will very soon start to dose patients on remdesivir … which had been tested without much success with Ebola, but Ebola virus and coronavirus are different and it may have a better success with corona,” Kieny said.
“But we will have to wait for a few weeks whether this gives any positive signal.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)