To fight the new coronavirus, researchers are investigating more than 60 drugs, including remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine and brand new ones. Here’s a breakdown of progress so far
EYES tight with worry above white surgical masks, more than 300 people slowly boarded the waiting 747 cargo planes at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. It was 17 February, and after weeks in quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess anchored off the coast of Japan, they were heading home to the US. Fourteen had tested positive for covid-19.
On arrival, one of the 14 was given an experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir, as part of a global clinical trial. By the time this article went to press, hundreds of covid-19 patients around the world had taken the drug as part of ongoing trials.
Remdesivir was first developed in the mid-2010s to fight Ebola. Although it was found to be ineffective against that virus, it showed promise in early trials against coronaviruses such as the one that causes SARS. That’s why many hope it will work against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The demand is already so high that its manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, recently had to stop providing access for people outside of trials seeking the drug under compassionate-use schemes for untested medicines.
But we still don’t know if remdesivir, or any other drug, works against the new coronavirus. And while 80 per cent of people who catch covid-19 don’t require hospital treatment, those who do get admitted desperately need effective drugs, which may still be several months away.
The good news is, we know where to look, and which strategies are most likely to work. At least 60 different compounds are now being investigated, including existing drugs and therapies being designed from scratch, and in record time.