Anti-HIV drug helps COVID-19 patient recover in Kerala. Does this mean a cure is there?
An elderly Italian couple who were administered the drug combination in Jaipur was the first to undergo such treatment in the country. Both recovered from the disease.
A 71-year-old British National was cured of the novel coronavirus disease on Wednesday after he underwent a week-long treatment with anti-HIV drugs in Kerala. The patient, admitted at the Ernakulam Medical College Hospital, was administered the drug combination of Ritonavir and Lopinavir – otherwise taken by HIV patients to inhibit the replication of viruses in the body – with the consent of the patient and his wife, after his condition turned severe.
“A sample test conducted on the third day itself showed a negative result. But the official announcement was made only after the results on March 23 was also negative,” a statement from the hospital said.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), earlier this month, had approved administering the combination in severe cases of COVID-19.
The drug proved effective during the SARS outbreak in 2002-03 and the MERS outbreak in 2012 which were also caused by coronaviruses – a family of viruses that are so-called because of the crown-like shape.
This was only the second time the drug was tried on patients in India, the statement read.
An elderly Italian couple who were administered the drug combination in Jaipur was the first to undergo such treatment in the country. Both recovered from the disease. But the 69-year-old husband died a few days later due to cardiac arrest.
But does this mean there is a cure?
Deciding whether a drug is effective against a disease is not that simple. It is usually done through what scientists call Randomised Control Trials (RCTs), in which the drug to be tested along with placebos are administered randomly to patients to test whether it actually works or not.
Such a randomised, controlled, open-label trial of Ritonavir-Lopinavir combination to test its effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2 (that’s what scientists call the virus that spreads COVID-19) was conducted recently in China. It involved 199 COVID-19 patients, out of which 99 were administered the lopinavir-ritonavir drug.
“In hospitalized adult patients with severe Covid-19, no benefit was observed with lopinavir-ritonavir treatment beyond standard care,” said the scientists who conducted the trial.
Have there been such studies earlier?
Several earlier studies have shown that the antiretroviral drug was effective against coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, leading to “good clinical outcomes, with almost all cases recovering fully,” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
But these studies “were small; timing, duration and dosing for treatment were varied and most patients received co-interventions/co-treatments which may have contributed to the reported outcomes,” it says.
“Currently, there is insufficient data to assess the effectiveness of LPV/r or other antivirals for treating COVID-19. Several countries are evaluating the use of LPV/r and other antivirals and we welcome the results of these investigations,” says WHO.