Hong Kong researchers have found that patients with a milder illness caused by the new coronavirus recover more quickly if they are treated with a three-drug antiviral cocktail soon after the onset of symptoms.
The small trial, which involved 127 patients, compared those to whom the combined drug – consisting of the HIV therapy lopinavir-ritonavir, the hepatitis ribavirin drug and the treatment for interferon-beta multiple sclerosis – with a control group just given lopinavir-ritonavir.
The results, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, showed that on average, people who received the triple drug reached the point of undetectable virus five days earlier than those in the control group – at seven days versus 12 days.
“Our trial shows that early treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 with a triple combination of antiviral drugs can quickly suppress the amount of virus in a patient’s body, relieve symptoms and reduce the risk to health care workers.” health, “said Kwok-Yung Yuen, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who conducted the research.
He said the lower risk to healthcare workers would be due to the effect of the combined drug on reducing “viral shedding” – that is, when the virus is detectable and potentially transmissible.
The study was conducted between February 10 and March 20 in Hong Kong, where anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 was admitted to hospital.
The authors conceded several limitations to the trial, including that it was “open” – people knew what drugs they were taking and there was no placebo.
In the trial, all patients received standard hospital care as required, including ventilation support, dialysis support, antibiotics and corticosteroids.
Yuen said the results were “encouraging”, but that the effect of the triple drug should now be tested in more patients and in people with more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Scientists are fighting to find effective drugs to use against the new coronavirus, but there is currently no cure, treatment, or vaccine.
Independent experts agreed that the results were positive, but said that larger and more detailed studies would be needed.
This “justifies considering adding interferon beta to the list of genuinely evidence-based and promising treatments to be tested in other randomized trials,” said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He said that long years of experience in treating the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS has shown that it is best to treat it with combinations of different drugs “and this could also be the case with COVID-19 ”.