With the novel coronavirus continuing to spread around the globe, drugmakers of all sizes are on the hunt for a possible therapeutic for the crisis. One option? Evaluating older meds to determine whether they can be repurposed as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Pharma's strategy for developing a therapeutic is being fought on two fronts: Repurposing existing meds—be they antivirals or anti-inflammatories or another option altogether—and developing investigational candidates to target COVID-19, the condition caused by the novel coronavirus, directly.
So far, 14 repurposed drugs are in researchers' hands, according to the World Health Organization and drugmaker reports.
Take chloroquine, for example: The long-generic malaria med has captured the nation's attention after President Donald J. Trump highlighted its use alongside antibiotic Z-Pack (azithromycin) as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Alongside a suite of antivirals, two meds in the IL-6 inhibitor class, Sanofi and Regeneron's Kevzara and Roche's Actemra, have also been submitted for clinical trials.
So far, the results for those repurposed hopefuls have been mixed, at best.
Hydroxychloroquine, a more tolerable form of chloroquine, didn't top placebo at clearing the coronavirus among Chinese patients with mild cases, or at helping them reach normal temperature sooner, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat noted in a Tuesday memo.
Separately, neither AbbVie's Kaletra, a combination of HIV antivirals lopinavir and ritonavir, nor Arbidol (umifenovir) delivered benefits in viral clearance or symptom relief compared with no antiviral treatment in a small Chinese study in mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients, results published Monday on the preprint site medRxiv show.
With demand growing, though, drugmakers are stepping up to increase production. Earlier this week, Roche said it was "working urgently" to maximize production of Actemra to meet current demand while supplying clinical trials. The immunology med is in testing to treat the dangerous lung inflammation that hits patients with serious cases.
Meanwhile, AbbVie said it would waive patent rights for Kaletra to allow countries to buy cheaper generics of the drug and prevent a possible shortage. With no patent rights to enforce, AbbVie would likely forgo millions in profits if Kaletra is found effective to treat COVID-19.