Doctors Turning to HIV Medications for Treatment of COVID-19
There is currently no known cure for infection with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). As a result, experts are now exploring medications for the treatment of HIV patients as a stop-gap solution to COVID-19.
The number of new cases in China, where the outbreak began, appears to have reduced in recent weeks. But the novel coronavirus – officially known as SARS-CoV-2 – continues to spread in other countries at a rather alarming rate.
There have been reports of roughly 208,451 cases worldwide since the outbreak started. More than 8,273 people have also died as a result of the virus as of writing.
Researchers have now shifted their focus to existing drugs to try and contain the outbreak while the search for a specific cure continues.
Drugs for treating HIV patients have been used to counter some other disorders caused by viruses. Experts are using or considering using, these same drugs to tackle the novel coronavirus in infected individuals.
Already, there are reports of people getting better after receiving these medications in some Asian countries and even in the U.S.
Why HIV Drugs May Help
Ritonavir, lopinavir, and darunavir are some of the antiretroviral medications that researchers are testing on SARS-CoV-2. These drugs are protease inhibitors that block HIV from accessing a vital enzyme it needs to multiply.
other viral disorders, such as Hepatitis B, may be treated with HIV medications.
Research also shows that they help with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a related disorder to COVID-19 also caused by a coronavirus.
Medical experts are showing interest in HIV drugs mainly because, like HIV, the COVID-19 virus is an RNA virus. They believe the medicines may work in the same way to inhibit enzymes that enable the coronavirus to replicate.
HIV Medications Helping Recovery in Patients
Doctors in Thailand, Japan, and China are already treating COVID-19 patients with these drugs and they seem to help. China has been testing Kaletra, a lopinavir and ritonavir combination drug, on patients since January.
Early in February, doctors in Bangkok announced that they had successfully treated a patient with a combination of ritonavir and lopinavir plus the flu drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu). The patient was a 70-year-old Chinese woman that was severely ill. According to reports, she tested negative within two days of the treatment.
James Cai, New Jersey’s index case, is currently recovering thanks in part to Kaletra. The 32-year-old says medical experts in China suggested treatment with a combination of the drug and chloroquine after his doctors got in touch with them. He told The New York Post that he would have died without the treatment.
There are also other pieces of anecdotal evidence that suggest HIV drugs might help.
In addition, researchers reported in JAMA this month (March) that three out of five patients recovered following treatment with lopinavir and ritonavir.
Drugs not Approved for Treatment
However, some medical experts have stated the need for even more testing to be sure HIV drugs truly help against COVID-19.
A Kaiser Health News report states that the recent SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks did not last long enough to allow time to properly assess treatments in humans.
The experimental drug remdesivir showed in animal studies that it could help against both SARS and MERS. It is not certain yet if it will have similar effects against SARS-CoV-2.
The New York Post reports that health officials have stated that HIV drugs are not approved for treating coronavirus. This was in response to accounts of infected persons, such as Cai, showing improvement after being treated with the meds.
There are currently several hundreds of trials ongoing, mostly involving existing drugs, to find an effective treatment.
Researchers in China are presently investigating the potency and safety of both lopinavir and ritonavir against the novel coronavirus. Drugmakers in the U.S have also started testing their HIV medications for the same purpose as well.
Medical authorities do not think that having a standard treatment will spell an instant end to the outbreak, however. Antivirals might not affect most infection cases, which are usually mild in terms of symptoms.
amfAR :: Will HIV Drugs Help Fight Coronavirus? :: The Foundation for AIDS Research :: HIV / AIDS Research (https://www.amfar.org/Will-HIV-Drugs-Help-Fight-Coronavirus/)
HIV drugs are being used as part of coronavirus treatment (https://nypost.com/2020/03/12/hiv-drugs-are-being-used-as-part-of-coronavirus-treatment/)
Can drugs meant for HIV treat the new coronavirus? | Advisory Board Daily Briefing (https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/02/20/coronavirus-treatment)