WHO clinical trial stops use of interferon; cancer drug to be tested vs COVID arrives in PH

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2020 09:55 PM

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MANILA — While the World Health Organization has decided to exclude the drug interferon from its multi-country clinical trial, a cancer drug recently added to the study has already arrived in the Philippines, a health official said Monday.

“Official na yung acalabrutinib. Dumating yung doses natin last Monday,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

(Acalabrutinib was officially added. The doses arrived last Monday.)

According to the database of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, acalabrutinib is an orally administered compound that has been used in clinical trials for the treatment of Myelofibrosis, Ovarian Cancer, Multiple Myeloma, and Hodgkin Lymphoma, among others.

An NIH article also cited a study showing that acalabrutinib was “associated with reduced respiratory distress and a reduction in the overactive immune response in most of the treated patients.”


Vergeire mentioned the drug earlier this month after a study showed that other off-label drugs, specifically hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir, tested against COVID-19 failed to treat patients.

“Tatanggalin na sa treatment arm ng WHO yung drug na interferon dahil nakita, base sa resulta ng clinical trial, na hindi naman sya nakakapag-reduce ng mortality among COVID-19 patients,” she said.

(Interferon will be removed from the treatment arm of the WHO study because, based on the clinical trial, it cannot reduce the mortality of COVID-19 patients.)

Interferon beta has been used to treat multiple sclerosis and was used with other drugs for the WHO Solidarity Trial.

“Tapos, yung isa pang susubukan yung monoclonal antibodies,” Vergeire said.

(And then they will also try monoclonal antibodies.)

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made antibodies used to treat cancer and fight viruses. The US NIH says these can bind to portions of viruses, preventing them from initiating infection. Because of this, scientists think they can provide short term protection against the COVID-19 virus. 

While initial studies show that remdesivir might also not help patients get well, Vergeire said the WHO decided to continue studying it.

“They want more information. They would want more data and want more accurate findings for remdesivir,” she said.

The Philippines has logged 371,630 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday, of which, 36,333 are active infections. The death toll stood at 7,039, and total recoveries are 328,258.

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