As the number of Coronavirus cases and deaths continues to rise, researchers race at breakneck speed toward some form of a cure. To save time during this crisis, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed parts of the standard clinical test process to be neglected. As such, some drugs are already being tried out on people, having skipped the animal phase. While researchers explore new ideas and take every procedural shortcut that can safely be justified, the world is left wondering: What treatments or vaccines may be coming soon?
Chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine, have shown promise in the fight against Coronavirus. Initially used to treat malaria, these drugs have since been prescribed to help patients with lupus. Lab tests have shown that this medication can kill the virus, and some doctors report high recovery rates.
Repurposed Antivirals: Hit or Miss
The potential repurposing of drugs developed to fight other viruses doesn’t stop with chloroquine. There was some hope that lopinavir and ritonavir, two HIV drugs, would be effective, but the results so far aren’t promising. Remdesivir was initially used to combat Ebola outbreaks, but it has proven useful against other viruses. If a drug already approved for use on humans can be used to treat COVID-19, it should significantly speed up the approval process.
A New Way for Donated Blood to Save Lives?
Early reports out of China show that plasma from those who have recovered from Coronavirus can help others fight off the infection. Countries around the world, including the U.S., are now participating in a global program to test whether this can be a viable treatment.
Can a Vaccine Stop COVID-19?
There are currently more than 20 vaccines in development – though the effectiveness of any is far from guaranteed. Even before SARS, MERS, and now COVID-19 made coronaviruses famous, four others in this family affected humans: 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. They’re responsible for somewhere around 20% of all colds, and we still don’t have a vaccine or proven cure for any of them.
Scientists are hopeful about two potential preventatives, however. The mRNA-1273 vaccine is in the human trial phase now. What’s unique about this option is that it doesn’t contain any actual viral cells and therefore can’t spread the infection. Instead, it is made of messenger RNA from the virus.
Some researchers believe the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) tuberculosis (TB) vaccine might offer some protection against COVID-19. It’s unclear that it would help, or how, but some unexpected benefits may be cause for hope. In addition to proving effective against TB and leprosy, the BCG vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of some respiratory infections unrelated to tuberculosis. Various studies show that it protects against acute lower respiratory tract infection and sepsis. One study out of Brazil showed that it reduced the risk of pneumonia mortality in children.
To be clear, this isn’t expected to be the ultimate cure or prevention – but an extra round of defense is nothing to be scoffed at.
Hurry Up and Wait …
When the scientific hurdles have all been cleared, universal application of the solution still won’t be immediate. Mass production takes money, and lots of it. Developers simply can’t afford to stockpile a potential treatment or vaccine that isn’t guaranteed to go to market.
Beyond the economic limitations lie the political. Government agencies must approve the distribution of drugs. A nation that develops or discovers a cure might well give its own population first shot at the treatment. Researchers race toward a cure in a hurry up and wait situation.