MANILA—It’s been four months since COVID-19 spread in China and the rest of the world, but until now there is still no known cure for it.
Since it is a new coronavirus strain, experts have resorted to testing off-label drugs, such as those meant for malaria or flu.
A number of these are being hailed as “promising,” after producing encouraging clinical trial results abroad. Some are already being used in the Philippines.
ABS-CBN News lists below the treatments that are being or will soon be tested through clinical trials in the Philippines.
Last week, the Philippine General Hospital issued a call for COVID-19 survivors to donate blood or plasma. Plasma from donors, who will go through thorough screening, will be used to help treat patients with severe and critical symptoms of COVID-19.
Dr. Jonas Del Rosario, PGH spokesperson, told ABS-CBN News that convalescent plasma therapy has long been used during epidemics as a way to bring in antibodies from recovered patients to those still battling the disease.
“Now we thought about this because in the past, convalescent plasma taken from a person who has recovered from an infection and contain neutralizing antibodies were found to be helpful in other pandemics,” Del Rosario said, referring to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic and the 2012 MERS-COV epidemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also supported the treatment, which has been used for illnesses that do not have a vaccine yet.
“You are essentially giving the new victim's immune system a boost of antibodies to hopefully get them through the very difficult phase,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies program, said in February.
“So it must be given at the right time, because it mops up the virus in the system, and it just gives the new patient's immune system a vital push at the time it needs it. But it has to be carefully timed and it's not always successful."
As of last week, the PGH said it has received calls from more than 20 recovered patients but only half are eligible to donate.
COVID-19 survivors interested in helping out can contact 09178053207 for plasma donations.
The Department of Science and Technology is also looking into virgin coconut oil as a treatment for COVID-19.
The agency announced earlier that it will conduct studies based in hospitals and communities. The first one will be conducted by the PGH and the latter by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) at quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and Calabarzon region.
Coconut oil will serve as a supplement for patients.
Dr. Fabian Dayrit of Ateneo de Manila University said coconut oil has anti-viral properties.
“Lauric acid (C12) is the major fatty acid in coconut oil accounting for about 50% of this oil by weight. Upon ingestion of coconut oil, C12 and monolaurin, as well as capric acid (C10) and monocaprin, are naturally released by enzymes in the body,” Dayrit said. “These compounds have been shown in various in-vitro studies to have antiviral properties.”
The DOST said that the study could last at least one month or until it reaches the minimum number of patients required.
The DOH has already allowed the use of anti-malarial drug chloroquine in hospitals to treat COVID-19 cases.
Chloroquine is an oral prescription drug used for malaria and inflammatory conditions, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chloroquine, as well as similar anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, is now being used in clinical trials, including the WHO’s Solidarity Trial, as treatment for confirmed COVID-19 cases or as prophylaxis or prevention of infection.
According to the WHO, studies in China and France indicate “possible benefit of chloroquine phosphate against pneumonia caused by COVID-19 but need confirmation through randomized trials.”
With the Philippines now included in the Solidarity Trial, participating local hospitals can test its use on patients who agree to join the clinical trial.
The patients are randomly assigned one of the four drug and drug combinations included in the multi-country clinical trials.
Remdesivir is an intravenous drug initially used for Ebola treatment. It has “broad antiviral activity that inhibits viral replication through premature termination of RNA transcription and has in-vitro activity against SARS-CoV-2 and in-vitro and in-vivo activity against related betacoronaviruses,” according to the US CDC.
It’s one of the drugs included in the Solidarity Trial. And according to the WHO, it showed promising results in animal studies for two other strains of coronavirus: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
ABS-CBN News has yet to confirm whether Remdesivir is being tried locally.
The combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir is a licensed treatment for HIV.
These are included in the WHO Solidarity Trial, which now involves the participation of more than 40 countries including the Philippines.
The WHO said it has yet to see evidence of the drug combination’s effect against COVID-19 and the other coronavirus strains.
“While there are indications from laboratory experiments that this combination may be effective against COVID-19, studies done so far in COVID-19 patients have been inconclusive,” the WHO said.
ABS-CBN News has yet to confirm whether Lopinavir and Ritonavir are being tried locally.
The fourth drug/drug combination to be used by the WHO Solidarity Trial is a mix of Lopinavir/Ritonavir and Interferon beta-1a.
Interferon beta is used to treat multiple sclerosis and helps control the body’s antiviral response, including the ability to fight viruses.
ABS-CBN News has yet to confirm whether Interferon beta is being tried locally.
While it may take months before any of these experimental treatments are proven to address COVID-19, the clinical trials would help infected patients.
As of Tuesday, there have been 3,764 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. of that number, 84 have recovered and 177 have died. Based on DOH data, recoveries take an average of 3 weeks to be rid of the virus.
The DOH has already said it is studying best practices from such cases.