Have they found a cure for the coronavirus? Australian researchers claim two existing drugs could ‘cure’ COVID-19 after patients they tested responded ‘very well’ to treatment

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.

Australian researcher says they’ve potentially found ‘CURE’
One of the drugs being considered for the trial is an anti-malaria treatment known as chloroquine (pictured)

One of the drugs being considered for the trial is an anti-malaria treatment known as chloroquine (pictured)

WHAT ARE THE DRUGS THAT COULD BE USED TO STOP THE CORONAVIRUS?

CHLOROQUINE

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 diarrhoea.

In February 2020, Chinese medics determined the drug may be safe and effective in treating coronavirus induced pneumonia.  

LOPINAVIR/RITONAVIR  (KALETRA)

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  diarrhoea, 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. 

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.

Professor David Paterson (pictured) hopes to have patients enrolled in a clinical trial of the drug by the end of March

The HIV drug Kaletra has shown promising results in the small number of coronavirus patients who have been treated with it, scientists say – they now want to start proper clinical trials

The HIV drug Kaletra has shown promising results in the small number of coronavirus patients who have been treated with it, scientists say – they now want to start proper clinical trials

COULD AN EXPERIMENTAL EBOLA DRUG WORK?

Remdesivir, developed by California-based Gilead, has previously protected animals against a variety of viruses in lab experiments.

The experimental drug has effectively treated monkeys infected with Ebola and Nipah viruses, the US National Institutes of Health says.

At least two trials of the drug, originally developed as an Ebola treatment, are known to be underway for SARS-CoV-2 in China.

Remdesivir works by blocking a protein that helps coronaviruses make copies of themselves and, in turn, infect patients.

Scientists in China earlier this month filed a patent for remdesivir in hope that it will help treat coronavirus patients.

More recently, remdesivir was found to help relieve symptoms in the first American coronavirus patient while he was hospitalized.

It was given intravenously to a man in Washington, the very first person diagnosed with coronavirus in the US, for compassionate use.

One day after he took the drug, he didn’t need supplemental oxygen anymore and his appetite improved. Four days later, his fever broke.

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 Organisation. It is a different combination to the PREP drug which was recently approved for HIV prevention in the UK.

Chloroquine – an antimalarial drug – works in a different way and is given to people to prevent malaria infections if they are bitten by a mosquito carrying the parasite.

It does not cure malaria but stops it from developing when taken before, during and after someone visits an at-risk area.

The drug works by salts inside them poisoning parasites and preventing them from  growing inside human red blood cells.

It has also been found to be able to destroy viruses, and scientists found in lab tests that it could be effective against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

Chloroquine is already widely used as an antimalarial for travellers and is also approved in the UK for use on people with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Scientists are keen to use an already-approved medication to try and treat the coronavirus because it would cut out the lengthy processes of safety trials – they are already proven to be safe – and getting government approval and manufacturing.

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.