Anti-viral drug cocktail shows success clearing COVID-19 in 'seven days'

The three-drug cocktail consists of the HIV medication lopinavir-ritonavir, the hepatitis therapy drug ribavirin and the multiple sclerosis treatment interferon-beta.

Colorful of tablets and capsules pill in blister packaging arranged with beautiful pattern with flare light. Pharmaceutical industry concept. Pharmacy drugstore. Antibiotic drug resistance (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Colorful of tablets and capsules pill in blister packaging arranged with beautiful pattern with flare light. Pharmaceutical industry concept. Pharmacy drugstore. Antibiotic drug resistance
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Scientists in Hong Kong recently completed a clinical study in which they found that administering a cocktail of three different anti-viral medications to patients enduring mild coronavirus symptoms "may rapidly suppress the amount of virus in a patient's body."
The three-drug anti-viral cocktail is made up of the HIV medication lopinavir-ritonavir, the hepatitis therapy drug ribavirin and the multiple sclerosis treatment interferon-beta.
"Early triple antiviral therapy was safe and superior to lopinavir–ritonavir alone in alleviating symptoms and shortening the duration of viral shedding and hospital stay in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19," the study authors wrote, adding that "future clinical study of a double antiviral therapy with interferon beta-1b as a backbone is warranted" for a complete overview.
In the 127-patient study – conducted by Dr. Kwok-Yung Yuen at Hong Kong University and his research partners from February 10 to March 20, published in The Lancet medical journal – the 86 patients who were randomly assigned to the experimental group received the anti-viral cocktail, while the 41 patients assigned to the control group were solely administered the HIV therapy drug lopinavir-ritonavir - often known by the brand-name Kaletra.
The study was "open-label," meaning that the patients knew which drug they were receiving, without a placebo group.
Age, gender and baseline demographics in each group were "similar"; fever and a dry cough were among the most common symptoms observed.
Patients administered the cocktail tested negative for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, seven days after application.
"For the primary endpoint of time from start of study treatment to negative nasopharyngeal swab, the combination group had a significantly shorter median time (7 days) than the control group (12 days)," the study authors noted. "For the virological outcome, the combination treatment was associated with significantly shorter time to negative viral load in all specimens when assessed individually (nasopharyngeal swab, posterior oropharyngeal saliva, throat swab, and stool samples) as well as in all specimens combined. All urine samples tested negative for viral load."
Patients normally felt better within four days, with researchers adding that previously established side effects within the medications were being closely watched. The drugs, however, have a long-standing track record for safety, according to medical officials.
"Despite the concern of major side effects arising from a combination of three drugs, no significant differences in incidence of adverse events between treatment groups were reported in our cohort of 127 patients," the study authors wrote.
"No haemolysis occurred from the short duration of low dose ribavirin. We did not use triple combination for patients who started treatment 7 days or more after symptom onset because of the concerns about the proinflammatory side effects of interferon beta-1b – despite that at most, three doses were used for each patient," they added, noting that "liver dysfunction was observed in about 14% of these patients and it was mild and self-limiting, except in one patient in the control group, in whom the biochemical hepatitis warranted the discontinuation of lopinavir–ritonavir treatment."
The study was independently reviewed by experts, who concurred that the findings were positive, but larger clinical trials are warranted in their opinion for greater certainty regarding the cocktail's effectiveness.
HIV also has a long-standing record of being successfully treated by a cocktail of drugs, and medical experts purport this could also be the case with COVID-19, adding the results are promising and warrant adding interferon beta to the list of evidence-based treatments for the coronavirus.


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