Drugs used to treat HIV and malaria could be used to tackle the coronavirus, according to scientists in Australia.
A team of infectious disease experts at the University of Queensland in Brisbane say they have seen two existing medications manage to wipe out COVID-19 infections.
Chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and HIV-suppressing combination lopinavir/ritonavir have both reportedly shown promising results in human tests and made the virus ‘disappear’ in infected patients.
The drugs are being tested as researchers and doctors around the world scramble to try and find a vaccine, cure or treatment for the deadly virus.
Around 170,000 people across the globe have now been infected with the coronavirus and over 6,500 have died.
After China managed to get a handle on its sudden outbreak other countries were blindsided by huge epidemics – almost 25,000 people have caught it in Italy, around 14,000 in Iran, 8,000 in Spain and more than 5,000 apiece in Germany and France.
Queensland researcher, Professor David Paterson, said he hopes to enrol people in larger scale pharmaceutical trials by the end of the month.
One of the drugs being considered for the trial is an anti-malaria treatment known as chloroquine (pictured)
Professor Paterson said it wouldn’t be wrong to consider the drugs a possible ‘treatment or cure’ for the deadly respiratory infection.
He explained that when the HIV medication lopinavir/ritonavir was given to people infected with the coronavirus in Australia it led to the ‘disappearance of the virus’.
He told Australian news site news.com.au: ‘It’s a potentially effective treatment.
‘Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of the therapy.’
Although the treatment had been effective in a smattering of cases, there hasn’t been any controlled testing like what would be needed to test a new drug, Professor Paterson said.
‘That first wave of Chinese patients we had (in Australia), they all did very, very well when they were treated with the HIV drug,’ Professor Paterson said.
‘What we want to do at the moment is a large clinical trial across Australia, looking at 50 hospitals, and what we’re going to compare is one drug, versus another drug, versus the combination of the two drugs,’ Professor Paterson said.
There have been around 300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Australia and three people have died.
Lopinavir/ritonavir, the anti-HIV drug being tested, is most commonly sold under the name Kaletra.
It is an antiviral medication which can be taken twice a day by people infected with HIV in order to reduce levels of the virus circulating in the body.
Regular use of the medication is intended to stop HIV progressing to AIDS, which is fatal, and may also reduce the risk of people transmitting the infection to others.
It is a type of drug called a protease inhibitor, which works by stopping viruses from using an enzyme called protease, which is vital for them to be able to spread.
Without protease viruses cannot make the fully-matured clones that they need to be able to infect other healthy cells, so the infection can’t spread.
This ability to stop a virus from reproducing and infecting new cells is believed to be what apparently makes Kaletra an effective coronavirus treatment.
Kaletra is approved for use in the US, Europe and Australia, and its manufacturer – AbbVie – has already donated supplies of the drug to authorities China, the US and to the World Health Organization.
Professor David Paterson (pictured) hopes to have patients enrolled in a clinical trial of the drug by the end of March
Pictured: People waiting outside Royal Melbourne Hospital to be tested for coronavirus
Pictured: A coronavirus cell. The virus often causes respiratory infections in humans
WHICH DRUGS COULD ‘CURE’ CORONAVIRUS?
The combined fixed dose drug has been used in the fight against HIV and AIDS since 2006.
Some of the negative side affects to the drug include diarrhea, vomiting, feeling tired, headaches, and muscle aches.
Chinese medical researchers suggested the drug had successfully cured coronavirus patients after the December 2019 outbreak.
Requests have been submitted in China to start a clinical trial of the drug to accurately determine its effectiveness in fighting COVID-19.
Australian authorities are also hoping to test the drug on local patients.
Chloroquine is a drug which was once commonly used to prevent and treat malaria.
As humans have developed an increased natural resistance to the mosquito-borne disease, the drug has been used less frequently.
Researchers now believe it may hold the key to treating COVID-19, the latest strain of coronavirus.
Common side affects include muscle problems, loss of appetite and diarrhea.
In February 2020, Chinese medics determined the drug may be safe and effective in treating coronavirus induced pneumonia.
Professor Paterson, an infectious diseases physician, has launched a fundraising appeal alongside the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital to raise money to support the clinical trials.
The Coronavirus Action Fund hopes to raise $750,000 to go toward understanding and better treating COVID-19.
A statement from the organisers says research and trials will be underway as soon as funding is secured.
At least 350 Australians have been infected with coronavirus since late January, and that number is predicted to soar in the coming weeks.
Hospitals have resorted to creating drive-through testing facilities while other potential carriers have been forced to wait for hours at testing clinics before they’re examined by health officials as the health system struggles to cope with increased demand.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says there have been 37 new cases in the 24 hours to 11am on Monday which he described as a ‘dramatic increase’.
There are 1282 cases under investigation at the moment with 25,500 people tested to date.
This graphic details the symptoms of coronavirus, and how they differ to a standard cold or flu
A woman covers her mouth as a preventative measure against coronavirus COVID-19 in Sydney on Monday
‘The number of people who are being impacted in our community is still relatively small,’ Mr Hazzard said in Sydney.
‘Having said that, it is starting to look as if there will be a fairly substantial … exponential increase in numbers over the next few weeks.’
Mr Hazzard said 67 of the 171 confirmed cases were infected while travelling overseas, but 44 were caught in Australia.
In response to the national crisis, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday implemented a self-isolation period for anybody returning from international destinations.
All passengers who arrived after midnight were instructed to head straight home to self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure they’re well and not carrying the disease, which has now spread to 157 countries.
Individuals who fail to comply could face up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $11,000, or both, he said on Monday.
Additional penalties could be imposed for each day the offending continues.
Victoria implemented a state of emergency from midday on Monday for at least four weeks, granting authorities the power to restrict movement and prevent entry to premises to protect the public.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 350
New South Wales: 171
South Australia: 20
Western Australia: 17
Northern Territory: 1
Australian Capital Territory: 2
TOTAL CASES: 350
Victoria’s state of emergency will aim to enforce the national 14-day isolation sanction declared for all travellers coming into Australia.
‘Those orders in the first instance relate to that mandatory – not optional in any way – mandatory home quarantine or at a hotel if you are not a resident,’ Mr Andrews said.
Meanwhile the government has been busy preparing a second stimulus package, to encourage increased spending amid fears COVID-19 could plunge Australia into a recession.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last week unveiled a $17.6billion spending program which included $750 for parents, pensioners, students and the unemployed.
With more than 300 people in Australia now infected with COVID-19, the PM’s office is considering a second stimulus this time focused on helping struggling industries like tourism, aviation and hospitality, sources close to Mr Morrison confirmed.
Retailers across Australia are predicted to be hit hard by the self-isolation procedures.
Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths will introduce drastic new measures from Tuesday to ease the burden caused by customers panic-buying essentials in response to the crisis.
Shelves have been stripped bare across the nation for weeks, with toilet paper, pasta and hand sanitiser in the greatest demand.
Woolworths and Coles will be closing their doors at 8pm each night to give staff a chance to restock and sanitise. Doors will open again at 7am for elderly customers and people with diabilities, before opening for the general public again at 8am.
‘We want to slow the panic down,’ Woolworths managing director Claire Peters said.
‘We understand that our customers’ priority is to be prepared, but the vast majority of our food is grown or manufactured in Australia so there is not a concern with supply. What we have is a spike in demand.’