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A promising coronavirus cure just failed in drug trials

Published Oct 8th, 2020 2:10PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: Syda Productions/Adobe

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  • A promising coronavirus cure just failed in a large-scale clinical trial from the UK, which showed the drug isn’t effective at treating COVID-19.
  • UK’s massive RECOVERY clinical trial program found that the HIV drug combo lopinavir-ritonavir isn’t effective against the novel coronavirus.
  • The researchers said the drug was not associated with reductions in mortality or improved symptoms, and they advised against the use of lopinavir-ritonavir for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 keeps claiming lives even though the doctors who have been battling the disease are saving more lives than they could during the first few months of the pandemic. No cure can prevent COVID-19 complications or deaths, but doctors have developed new treatment protocols that include effective meds against the pathogen. At the same time, there are plenty of ongoing studies assessing the efficacy of other meds. More than a dozen vaccine candidates are in the final stages of testing, with the first COVID-19 vaccine trial conclusions set to arrive in the coming weeks.

Despite the tremendous progress made so far, the speed of research has backfired in one way when it comes to vaccines. More and more Americans are reluctant to get COVID-19 vaccination as time progresses. The politicized nature of COVID-19 vaccine efforts might be to blame, even though scientists insist that vaccines will not be approved just because they’re efficient. They’ll have to also show that they’re safe and that they won’t induce severe side effects. On top of that, there’s no guarantee that the first wave of vaccines will be effective in the first place. Failures are expected from clinical trials, whether it’s experimental drugs like vaccines or existing therapies that might be repurposed for COVID-19 management. The latest such failure concern a drug combo that’s regularly used to treat HIV/AIDS. The UK’s RECOVERY coronavirus trial has shown that lopinavir-ritonavir isn’t effective at treating COVID-19.

Also known as Kaletra, the lopinavir-ritonavir combination of drugs has been used in COVID-19 management since the early days of the pandemic. Some studies indicated that the drug might speed up recovery by itself or with other medicines. Kaletra failed in trials dating back to mid-March, but the UK’s RECOVERY group just published its own findings on the matter.

The UK government’s massive COVID-19 clinical trial program is also responsible for the summer’s dexamethasone breakthrough. Later, UK scientists said that many steroids are effective against the novel coronavirus, not just dexamethasone. The latter was administered to President Trump during his hospitalization last weekend, prompting some doctors to worry about the severity of his case.

RECOVERY scientists gave lopinavir-ritonavir randomly to 1,616 people from mid-March through late June, while 3,424 people got standard care. “Overall, 374 (23%) patients allocated to lopinavir-ritonavir and 767 (22%) patients allocated to usual care died within 28 days,” the scientists wrote in the study that was published in The Lancet. “Results were consistent across all prespecified subgroups of patients. We observed no significant difference in time until discharge alive from hospital, […], or the proportion of patients discharged from hospital alive within 28 days.”

“Among patients not on invasive mechanical ventilation at baseline, there was no significant difference in the proportion who met the composite endpoint of invasive mechanical ventilation or death,” the study says. The researchers have concluded that the findings “do not support the use of lopinavir-ritonavir for treatment of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19.”

The lopinavir-ritonavir combo joins the list of other promising drugs that were not effective against coronavirus. Hydroxychloroquine is the most prominent example and tocilizumab (Actemra) is another.

These failures might seem like bad news, but they do have one beneficial side-effect. They further reinforce the idea that no matter what the political discourse might say about COVID-19 treatments and cures, it’s science that will ultimately prove whether a drug is safe and effective. And it’s science that will ultimately tell us which vaccines, if any, can prevent COVID-19 infections or reduce the severity of the illness.

The full lopinavir-ritonavir study is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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