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Scientists around the world are working on a number of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei/Getty Images
  • Scientists around the world have developed treatments and vaccines for the new coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.
  • Several companies are working on antiviral drugs, some of which are already in use against other illnesses, to treat people who have COVID-19.
  • At the moment, three vaccines that are used as a preventive measure against the disease are being distributed in the United States.
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With confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassing 30 million and continuing to grow, scientists have spent the past year developing vaccines and treatments to slow the pandemic and lessen the disease’s damage.

On Oct. 22, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go-ahead to Veklury (remdesivir), the first drug approved for the treatment of COVID-19. It is intended for use in adults and children 12 years and older.

The agency has also issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for several other treatments, including convalescent plasma therapy, a drug used to sedate people placed on a ventilator, and two drugs for people undergoing a type of blood purification known as continuous renal replacement therapy.

An EUA allows doctors to use these drugs to treat people even before the medications have gone through the formal FDA approval process.

As we wait for additional treatments and the distribution of already approved vaccines, there are still other tools we can use to protect ourselves and others from the new coronavirus.

“Even though technological advances allow us to do certain things more quickly, we still have to rely on social distancing, contact tracing, self-isolation, and other measures,” Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, told Healthline.

COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccines are designed to protect people before they’re exposed to a virus — in this case SARS-CoV-2.

A vaccine basically trains the immune system to recognize and attack a virus, even one it hasn’t seen before. While vaccines imitate an infection, they almost never cause illness.

Vaccines also protect the community by reducing the spread of disease among people. This protection is known as herd, or community, immunity.

Here’s a look at some of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine projects:

Moderna / National Institutes of Health. The company began testing its two-dose messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine in March 2020 in a phase 1 clinical trial, with promising results.

In late July, Moderna began phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine.

In late August, company officials said preliminary phase 1 trial data showed that the vaccine elicited a promising immune response in 10 people between the ages of 56 and 70 as well as 10 people over age of 70.

The company announced in late October that it had finished recruiting all 30,000 participants in the phase 3 trial. This included more than 7,000 people over the age of 65 and more than 5,000 younger people with chronic conditions that increase their risk of severe COVID-19.

In early October, company officials announced their vaccine won’t be available for wide distribution until spring 2021. Later in the month, Moderna’s CEO told investors that the trial’s data and safety monitoring board could start analyzing study data in November.

In mid-November, Moderna officials reported that their vaccine had achieved an effective rate of 94 percent in initial phase 3 trial results. Experts said more testing and more information is needed.

On November 30, Moderna officials said they would apply to the FDA for its vaccine to be approved for emergency use.

On December 18, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine. The company began shipping out the product three days later.

In May 2021, company officials announced their vaccine was shown to be effective in clinical trials against COVID-19 in children 12 to 17 years old.

In early June, Moderna officials asked the FDA to grant them emergency use authorization to administer their vaccine to children from 12 to 17 years old.

In September, Moderna officials said they are developing a combination booster shot for both COVID-19 and the flu. The single shot has yet to go through a clinical trial.

In late September, the company also released results of a phase 3 clinical trial that showed its COVID-19 did not lose any of its effectiveness 5 months after a second dose had been administered.

In late October, company officials reported that their COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective for children from 5 years to 11 years old.

Pfizer / BioNTech / Fosun Pharma. Drugmaker Pfizer teamed up German biotech company BioNTech and Chinese drugmaker Fosun Pharma to develop a two-dose mRNA vaccine.

In August 2020, company officials said the vaccine had produced a “robust” response in a phase 1/2 clinical trial.

The company launched a phase 3 trial in late July, with a goal to recruit 30,000 people from the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany. They later announced plans to increase this to 44,000 people. In October, the company said it received approval to enroll children as young as 12 years in the trial — the first American trial to include this age group.

As of late October, the trial had enrolled more than 42,000 people. At the time, the company had not yet conducted an interim analysis of the study data, which puts it behind its original goal of doing so by September. However, the company still expects to have enough data sometime in November to apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA.

On November 9, the company announced that its vaccine had been more than 90 percent effective in clinical trial participants.

A few days later, company officials announced they were applying for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for their vaccine. It was the first regulatory approval in the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine. The officials said the vaccine could be available to high-risk groups as early as mid-December.

On December 8, the FDA released documents that reported the Pfizer vaccine offers some protection after the first dose and nearly full protection after a second dose.

On December 11, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. The company started distributing the product two days later.

In January 2021, company officials said a study indicated their vaccine is only slightly less effective against the COVID-19 variant from South Africa.

In mid-February, a study from Israel reported a 94 percent decrease in symptomatic COVID-19 cases among people who received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That study also indicated the vaccine was 85 percent effective 15 to 28 days after an initial dose.

In mid-February, Pfizer officials announced that they believe their vaccine can be stored at regular freezer temperatures.

In late February, a study from the United Kingdom reported that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine can reduce the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus by 70 percent with an 85 percent reduction after two doses.

In early March, a study out of Israel reported that the Pfizer vaccine was highly effective in preventing COVID-19 in people with a variety of conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

In mid-March, company officials released from clinical data from Israel, reporting their vaccine was 97 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease from COVID-19.

In mid-May, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children 12 years to 15 years old.

In early June, Pfizer officials announced they will begin testing their vaccine on children younger than 12. In late October, they said the trial had shown their vaccine was safe and effective for children 5 years to 11 years old.

Inovio. When COVID-19 appeared in December, drugmaker Inovio had already been working on a DNA vaccine for MERS, which is caused by another coronavirus. This allowed the company to quickly develop a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Company officials announced at the end of April that it had enrolled 40 healthy volunteers in its phase 1 trial. In late September, the company announced that its phase 2/3 trial is on hold as the it responds to the FDA’s questions about the study.

In early August, company officials announced their vaccine has to be shown to be 93 percent effective after 6 months. However, they said they believe a third dose of booster vaccine will be needed in the near future.

In mid-August, Pfizer and BioNTech officials submitted their early clinical trial data to the FDA as part of their application to receive approval for a COVID-19 booster shot.

On September 20, company officials reported the first trial of their COVID-19 vaccine on children ages 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was safe, well tolerated, and produced a robust antibody response. The companies plan to apply for an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Sanofi / Translate Bio. Drugmaker Sanofi announced in February that it would work with Translate Bio to develop an mRNA vaccine. Preclinical testing showed that the vaccine could elicit a strong immune response in mice and monkeys. The company expects results from its phase 2 trial in early December. After that, they will start a phase 3 study.

CanSino Biologics. Scientists at this Chinese company are also working on a potential vaccine that uses an adenovirus known as Ad5 to carry coronavirus proteins into cells.

In late July, they reported that participants in a phase 2 trial showed a strong immune response when given the vaccine. However, they noted older adults had a weaker response, suggesting two doses might be needed for that segment of the population.

The Chinese military approved the vaccine in June, allowing the vaccine to be given to its armed forces. In August, the company began phase 3 trials in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

Gamaleya Research Institute. This Russian institute developed a vaccine that includes two adenoviruses, Ad5 and Ad26.

In August, President Vladimir Putin announced that the country’s regulatory agency had approved the vaccine, even before phase 3 trials had started. Russian officials later said the vaccine had received a “conditional registration certificate.”

Results of a phase 1/2 trial found that the vaccine elicited an immune response with mild side effects. Phase 3 trials are currently under way in Russia, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, and India.

Johnson & Johnson. Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced in late July that it had begun a phase 1/2 trial in people after their adenovirus vaccine had shown promising results when used in monkeys.

In late September, the company announced it was starting a phase 3 trial of its one-dose vaccine with 60,000 participants. In mid-October, the company announced it was pausing this trial due to an “unexplained illness” with one of the participants. The company has since received permission to restart the study.

In mid-November, Johnson & Johnson officials said they expected their vaccine to be ready for FDA approval by February.

In mid-January, company officials reported that in early clinical trials nearly all participants developed an immune response from the vaccine. In addition, the response lasted for at least 71 days.

In late January, company officials announced that their vaccine was 66 percent effective overall and more than 50 percent effective against the new variants.

In early February, Johnson & Johnson requested an emergency use authorization for its vaccine. FDA regulators will examine the data in the ensuing weeks because this is the first of the one-dose vaccines. An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to consider the company’s request in late February.

In late February, company officials announced they will be able to deliver 20 million doses of their vaccine by the end of March.

In late February, the company received emergency use authorization from the FDA for its single-dose vaccine.

In early March, the White House announced that Merck will help Johnson & Johnson manufacture its vaccine so the company can hit production targets.

In mid-September, company officials announced that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in participants in a clinical trial. The boosters were given 2 months to 6 months after the initial vaccine dose.

AstraZeneca / University of Oxford. A phase 1 clinical trial at the University of Oxford began in late April. The vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus, which shuttles coronavirus proteins into cells.

In August, AstraZeneca began phase 3 trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. These trials were halted in September when a study volunteer developed a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. The trials were restarted a week later in Brazil and the United Kingdom. In late October, the FDA authorized the U.S. trial to resume.

In mid-November, company officials said their vaccine had produced a strong immune response in a clinical trial that involved people over the age of 70.

Data released on December 8 indicated that the vaccine was safe but only about 70 percent effective.

In early February, company officials announced that phase 3 clinical trial results showed that their vaccine was 82 percent effective after 12 weeks. They added that the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death. They also noted that the vaccine achieved up to a 67 percent efficacy in preventing disease transmission.

A few days later, South Africa officials suspended plans to inoculate their front-line healthcare workers because clinical trials indicated the AstraZeneca vaccine wasn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness with the COVID-19 variant now dominant in that country.

In mid-February, the World Health Organization approved an emergency use authorization for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be distributed worldwide.

Sanofi / GSK / TranslateBio. Drugmaker Sanofi is pursuing two vaccines. The company is working with drugmaker GSK on a vaccine based on proteins from the coronavirus. When combined with another compound, called an adjuvant, the proteins elicit an immune response. They expect results from a phase 2 trial in early December, after which they will begin a phase 3 study.

Sanofi is also working with biotech company Translate Bio to develop an mRNA vaccine. They expect to start clinical trials in December.

Novavax. This company received up to $388 million in funding this spring from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a group that has funded COVID-19 vaccine development. The vaccine is made by attaching virus proteins to microscopic particles.

In August, Novavax launched a phase 2 trial in South Africa. A month later, the company began a phase 3 trial in the United Kingdom. It plans to start another phase 3 trial in the United States by the end of November.

In late January, company officials announced their vaccine was 90 percent effective overall and 60 percent effective against the South African variant.

University of Queensland in Australia / CSL. Researchers at the university developed a vaccine by growing viral proteins in cell cultures. They began preclinical testing stages in early April. The phase 1 trial in people began in early July. A phase 2/3 trial is expected to start late this year.

Wuhan Institute of Biological Products / Sinopharm. Chinese company Sinopharm is testing an inactivated virus vaccine developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. After a successful phase 1 trial, researchers launched phase 3 trials in the UAE in July and a month later in Peru and Morocco.

Beijing Institute of Biological Products / Sinopharm. Sinopharm is testing a second inactivated virus vaccine developed by Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

Phase 3 trials began in June in the UAE and in September in Argentina. In September, the UAE approved the vaccine for use on healthcare workers even before the results of the phase 3 trials.

Sinovac Biotech. This Chinese company launched phase 3 trials of its inactivated virus vaccine in Brazil in July, Indonesia in August, and Turkey in September. In August, the Chinese government issued emergency approval for the vaccine for use on high-risk groups.

Bharat Biotech / Indian Council of Medical Research / Indian National Institute of Virology. Indian company Bharat announced in late October that it was beginning a phase 3 trial of its inactivated virus vaccine.

Repurposed vaccines

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia is conducting a phase 3 trial of the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine to see if it also protects people from the coronavirus. This trial is being run in Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Some scientists think the polio vaccine might boost the immune system just enough to fight off the new coronavirus, although there’s no evidence yet to confirm this theory.

Two U.S. researchers also suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine might offer protection against inflammation and sepsis in people with COVID-19. They recommend starting a clinical trial with the MMR vaccine in healthcare workers.

Antivirals

Antivirals are drugs that are used for treating viral infections. Some antivirals target specific viruses, while others work against a number of viruses.

These drugs can work in different ways such as preventing the virus from entering host cells, replicating, or releasing viral particles to infect other cells.

In June 2021, White House officials announced they will spend $3 billion this year on developing antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 symptoms. They said the new medications could be ready by the end of this year and could possibly be used to treat other pandemic viruses in the future.

Here are some of antivirals being eyed as treatments for COVID-19. Many of these have been approved for other conditions or have been tested on other viruses.

Remdesivir (brand name Veklury). Developed a decade ago, remdesivir failed in clinical trials against Ebola in 2014. But it was found to be generally safe in people.

Research with MERS, a disease caused by a different coronavirus, showed that the drug blocked the virus from replicating.

In April, drugmaker Gilead Sciences announced that preliminary data from a trial of remdesivir overseen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had “met its primary endpoint.”

Based on these results, the FDA issued an order on May 1 for the emergency use of remdesivir for hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19.

In August, the agency broadened the EUA to allow for use of the drug in all hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including children.

The results of a phase 3 trial published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that remdesivir shortened the hospital stay of COVID-19 patients by about 5 days.

People taking remdesivir also had a lower risk of dying compared to those who had been given an inactive control substance.

On Oct. 22, the FDA approved remdesivir for use as a treatment for COVID-19 in adults and children 12 years and older. The drug is the first approved by the agency as a treatment for COVID-19.

Not all clinical trials have found that remdesivir is effective.

A study published in The Lancet in May reported that participants in a clinical trial who took remdesivir showed no benefits compared to people who took a placebo.

Preliminary results from a World Health Organization trial released in October found that remdesivir had little effect on how long people stayed in the hospital and no effect on their risk of dying.

Remdesivir is also being tested in many COVID-19 clinical trials around the world, including in combination with other drugs such as interferon beta-1a and a highly concentrated solution of antibodies.

In mid-September, officials at Eli Lilly announced that in early stage trials their anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when added to remdesivir can shorten hospital stays by 1 day for people with COVID-19.

Olumiant, which is the name baricitinib is sold under, is already used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions that involve overactive immune systems.

The drug is also being tested in children with moderate to severe COVID-19.

In mid-November, FDA officials announced they had granted an emergency use authorization to use the baricitinib-remdesivir combination therapy for treatment on hospitalized adults and children who need supplemental oxygen.

In mid-July, a study concluded that remdesivir provided no clinical benefit to people hospitalized with COVID-19 and may have actually extended their stay in the hospital.

AT-527. This drug was developed by Boston biotech Atea Pharmaceuticals and is being developed in partnership with drugmaker Roche.

Atea began a phase 2 trial in May, testing the drug in people hospitalized with moderate COVID-19.

The company plans to test the drug next year outside the hospital setting, and test to see if the drug can work in people recently exposed to the coronavirus.

EIDD-2801. This drug was created by scientists at a nonprofit biotech company owned by Emory University.

Research in mice has shown that it can reduce replication of multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

Pharmaceutical company Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP signed an agreement in May to develop this drug. A phase 1 trial of this drug began in April in the United Kingdom, followed in July by a phase 2 trial.

Unlike remdesivir, EIDD-2801 can be taken orally, which would make it available to a larger number of people.

Favipiravir (brand name Avigan). This drug, which is manufactured by the Japanese company Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., Ltd., is approved in some countries outside the United States to treat influenza.

Japan, where the medication is made, is sending the drug to 43 countries for clinical trial testing in people with mild or moderate COVID-19. Canadian researchers are testing to see whether the drug can help fight outbreaks in long-term care homes.

In September, Fujifilm released the results of a phase 3 trial that began in March. COVID-19 patients taking the drug improved after 12 days on average versus more than 14 days on average for people taking an inactive placebo.

The company is seeking approval of the drug in Japan as a treatment for COVID-19.

Fluvoxamine. This drug is already used to treat people with obsessive/compulsive disorder. In mid-November 2020, a study with 152 participants reported that the medication was effective in easing symptoms of COVID-19.

In early February 2021, a study indicated fluvoxamine could help prevent mild COVID-19 symptoms from becoming worse.

A study released in November 2021 reported that fluvoxamine reduced the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 in people with high risk by 32 percent.

Kaletra. This is a combination of two drugs — lopinavir and ritonavir — that work against HIV.

Clinical trials are being done to see whether this drug combo also works against SARS-CoV-2. There have been mixed results.

One small study published May 4 in the journal Med by Cell Press found that lopinavir/ritonavir didn’t improve outcomes in people with mild or moderate COVID-19 compared to those receiving standard care.

Another study, published May 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug combination wasn’t effective for people with severe COVID-19.

But another study found that people who were given lopinavir/ritonavir along with two other drugs — ribavirin and interferon beta-1b — took less time to clear the virus from their body. This study was published May 8 in The Lancet.

A U.K. study published in October in The Lancet found that the drug combo did not reduce the risk of dying, length of hospital stay, or need for mechanical ventilation in COVID-19 patients.

Merimepodib (VX-497). This drug, developed by ViralClear Pharmaceuticals Inc., has been previously shown to have antiviral and immune-suppressing effects. It was tested against hepatitis C but had only modest effects.

The company is running a phase 2 trial of this drug. People with advanced COVID-19 will be randomized to receive either merimepodib with remdesivir, or remdesivir plus a placebo.

The company ended its phase 2 trial in October after concerns about the drug’s safety.

Molnupiravir. The antiviral medication from Merck was approved for use by regulators in the United Kingdom in November 2021. It will be given to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who have at least one risk factor for developing serious illness. Merck is seeking FDA approval to distribute molnupiravir in the United States.

Niclosamide. ANA Therapeutics began a phase 2 and 3 trial in October of oral niclosamide, a drug that’s been used for more than 50 years to treat tapeworms, to see whether it helps people with COVID-19. Earlier studies showed the drug had antiviral and immune-modulating activities.

Paxlovid. In November 2021, Pfizer reported that its antiviral drug reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 89 percent. In the company’s study, Paxlovid was given to participants who were unvaccinated and at higher risk with COVID-19. The participants were experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of the disease. Pfizer is now seeking FDA approval to distribute the medication.

Umifenovir (brand name Arbidol). This antiviral was tested along with the drug lopinavir/ritonavir as a treatment for COVID-19.

Researchers reported in mid-April that the three-drug combination didn’t improve the clinical outcomes for people hospitalized with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

A July review of 12 studies found that Arbidol didn’t improve outcomes in people with COVID-19.

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies trigger the immune system to attack a virus. Like antibodies made by the body’s immune system, these lab-made molecules target a specific invader, such as SARS-CoV-2.

AstraZeneca received funding in October 2020 to begin phase 3 trials of its anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody combo drug AZD7442. One study will examine whether the drug can provide protection for up to 12 months.

The drug is made of two antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, isolated from the blood of a couple from Wuhan, China.

In October 2021, the company asked the FDA for emergency authorization to use the drug after a clinical trial showed it was 77 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in people who are at high risk of contracting the disease.

Celltrion. This South Korean company began a phase 3 trial in October of its monoclonal antibody treatment, CT-P59. It’s being tested in people who have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 to see whether the drug can prevent infection.

Edesa Biotech Inc. received approval to begin a phase 2 trial of its monoclonal antibody drug, EB05. The company thinks its drug could reduce the overactive immune responses associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Eli Lilly. In early October, Eli Lilly reported that a new treatment involving two antibodies showed promising results in reducing SARS-CoV-2 levels. The treatment was given to people with COVID-19 who hadn’t been hospitalized.

The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. People who received the antibodies had significantly reduced virus levels after 11 days. They also had slightly less severe symptoms compared to participants who received an inactive placebo.

In mid-October, the National Institutes of Health paused the phase 3 trial of Eli Lilly’s antibody over potential safety concerns. The drug was being tested in combination with the antiviral remdesivir.

In mid-November, the Eli Lilly drug bamlanivimab received an emergency use authorization from the FDA for use on people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk of hospitalization or severe symptoms.

In mid-January, researchers reported that bamlanivimab taken along with etesevimab reduces the amount of COVID-19 viral load in people with mild or moderate symptoms.

Also in mid-January, Eli Lilly officials announced that bamlanivimab significantly reduced the risk of contracting symptomatic COVID-19 among nursing home residents and employees. The phase 3 trial included 666 employees and 299 residents.

In early March, company officials reported that a phase 3 clinical trial revealed a drug combination of bamlanivimab and etesivmibab produced an 87 percent lower risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing a two-antibody combination in four groups: people hospitalized with COVID-19; people with symptoms of the disease but not hospitalized; healthy people at high risk for getting sick with COVID-19; and healthy people who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

On Oct. 7, the company asked the FDA for emergency approval of its antibody mixture, or “cocktail.” The announcement came a few days after President Trump was treated with the drug for COVID-19. Regeneron officials said doses for 50,000 people would initially be available.

In mid-October, the company reported its antibody mixture had performed well in a clinical trial involving hamster and rhesus macaque monkeys.

In late October, the company announced it would stop recruiting participants who need high levels of supplemental oxygen into its phase 2 and 3 trial due to potential safety concerns. People who need low or no supplemental oxygen will continue to be enrolled.

In January 2021, company officials announced that its antibody cocktail appears to be effective against the United Kingdom and South African variants of the novel coronavirus.

In June 2021, a new study revealed that the Regeneron antibody combination reduced the risk of death for people hospitalized with COVID-19 who don’t mount an immune defense on their own.

In July 2021, health experts said the Regeneron antibody cocktail is being used to help treat people who’ve been vaccinated but still become ill with COVID-19.

Sorrento Therapeutics. This small biotech company announced in May that it has an antibody drug that’s been effective in early testing in blocking SARS-CoV-2.

The company says the drug could potentially be used to treat people with COVID-19 as well as help prevent infection.

A preprint study published in September found that the antibody protected Syrian golden hamsters that were infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Vir Biotechnology has isolated antibodies from people who survived SARS, a disease caused by another coronavirus. The company is working with Chinese firm WuXi Biologics to test them as a treatment for COVID-19.

In October, Vir and drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline began a phase 3 trial of its antibody therapy VIR-7831. In late May, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for the drug known as sotrovimab.

In early November, Reuters reported that a large-scale plan by the World Health Organization to supply COVID-19 drugs to poorer countries would focus on antibody treatments and steroids but not include remdesivir.

Convalescent plasma therapy

Along the same lines, the FDA has announced a process for medical facilities to conduct trials on an experimental treatment that uses blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19.

The theory is that their plasma contains antibodies that will attack this particular coronavirus.

In late March, the New York Blood Center began collecting plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19.

In late May, researchers reported that 19 of 25 people with COVID-19 who were treated with convalescent plasma transfusions at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas had improved. Eleven of those patients have been released from the hospital.

Mayo Clinic and Michigan State University are also leading convalescent plasma programs.

In late August, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19. Some experts, however, said more research needs to be done on this type of treatment.

A phase 2 trial published in The BMJ in October found that this treatment didn’t prevent people from developing severe COVID-19 or reduce their risk of dying.

Immune modulators

In some people with COVID-19, the immune system goes into overdrive, releasing large amounts of small proteins called cytokines.

Scientists think this “cytokine storm” may be the reason certain people with severe COVID-19 develop ARDS and need to be put on a ventilator.

Several immune suppressants are being tested in clinical trials to see whether the drugs can quell the cytokine storm and reduce the severity of ARDS.

Dexamethasone. The inexpensive corticosteroid is already approved for other conditions and can be given orally or intravenously.

Preliminary results published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a moderate dose of dexamethasone reduced death in people hospitalized with COVID-19 on a ventilator and people receiving supplemental oxygen but not on a ventilator.

Other drugs being tested include baricitinib, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, and IL-6 inhibitors.

Eli Lilly announced in October that baricitinib in combination with remdesivir reduced recovery time and improved clinical outcomes in people with COVID-19. The largest benefits were seen in those receiving supplemental oxygen or noninvasive ventilation.

In October, the National Institutes of Health began a phase 3 trial of three immune modulators: infliximab, developed by Johnson & Johnson; abatacept, developed by Bristol Myers Squibb; and cenicriviroc, developed by AbbVie.

The FDA has also approved a device that filters cytokines out of the blood of people with COVID-19.

Stem cells

Athersys Inc. began a phase 2 and 3 trial that will examine whether the company’s stem cell treatment could potentially benefit people with ARDS.

Mesoblast has also developed a potential stem cell treatment for ARDS. The company is enrolling people with moderate to severe ARDS into a phase 2 and 3 clinical trial in the United States. As of October, the company had enrolled more than half of the participants for the phase 3 trial.

Other treatments

Scientists are also looking at other ways to target the virus or treat the complications of COVID-19.

Antibody cocktail. In July 2020, researchers at Columbia University in New York announced some initial success in using a mix of antibodies to potentially treat people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

They said the antibodies were collected from people hospitalized with COVID-19. The drug mixtures were tested on human cells as well as hamsters.

If proven safe and effective, the antibodies would be given via blood transfusions to people who recently contracted the virus.

Antiviral drugs. In September 2021, Pfizer and Merck both announced new clinical trials for their oral antiviral medications to treat COVID-19.

The Pfizer drug, known as PF-07321332, is designed for people with COVID-19 who are not considered at high risk for serious illness.

The Merck pill, which goes by the name molnupiravir, is designed for people who live in the same household as someone who has a symptomatic case of COVID-19.

Both medications are designed to prevent the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 from replicating.

Apilimod. In late July, Yale University announced it’s conducting a trial with AI Therapeutics on a drug known as apilimod.

Yale officials said the medication has been proven safe in treating autoimmune diseases and follicular lymphoma.

They said preliminary research indicates apilimod can block cellular entry of the new coronavirus.

The drug has been granted fast-track status by the FDA.

Arthritis Drugs. In early January, hospital officials in the United Kingdom reported that tocilizumab and sarilumab, drugs used to treat arthritis, can reduce the length of time spent in a hospital by 10 days.

They added that the two drugs can reduce the risk of death from COVID-19 by 24 percent for people who are seriously ill with the disease.

Blood thinners. In mid-September, U.S. researchers announced they’ve started two clinical trials to look at the possibility of using blood thinners to treat COVID-19.

One trial would focus on people with COVID-19 who have been hospitalized while the other would center on those with COVID-19 who weren’t hospitalized.

In mid-February, a study reported that blood thinners given as a preventative treatment to people within 24 hours of their hospitalization for COVID-19 reduced the risk of death from the disease.

Cannabinoid drug ARDS-003. In mid-September, officials at Canada-based Tetra Bio-Pharma announced they had received FDA approval to start a phase 1 trial of a synthetic cannabinoid drug to treat COVID-19.

Company officials said the medication may provide protection against ARDS, a condition that’s the most common cause of death for people with severe COVID-19.

Diabetes drug. In late September, researchers reported that the diabetes drug sitagliptin reduced death and improved clinical outcomes in people with type 2 diabetes who were given the drug after being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Researchers said it’s possible that sitagliptin could also help people without type 2 diabetes who develop COVID-19.

Feline coronavirus drug. In early September, a study reported that a drug sometimes used to treat a coronavirus illness in cats showed promise in a trial against COVID-19 in humans.

The drug hasn’t been approved by the FDA for use in cats or people, but researchers say it’s shown indications it can stop SARS-CoV-2 from replicating by targeting a key part of the virus’s cellular machinery.

Gout drug. A study published in early February reported that colchicine, a drug used to treat gout, reduces the need for supplemental oxygen as well as speeds up the recovery for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Researchers said people treated with colchicine needed oxygen to help breathing for three fewer days on average. They also spent on average two fewer days in the hospital.

Ibuprofen. In early June, scientists started a clinical trial to see whether the pain medication could be used for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Their theory is that ibuprofen’s anti-inflammatory qualities could help ease breathing difficulties associated with the illness.

Interferon beta. In mid-July, scientists in the United Kingdom reported success in initial tests with a protein called interferon beta. The body produces this protein during viral infections.

The researchers said the protein is inhaled directly into the lungs of someone with a SARS-CoV-2 infection in hopes of stimulating an immune response.

They said the protein reduced the odds of developing a severe form of the disease in hospitalized patients by 79 percent.

Preliminary results from a study by the World Health Organization found that interferon beta didn’t help people with COVID-19.

Molnupiravir. This drug, manufactured by Merck, is an oral antiviral agent. In early March, results from a phase 2a clinical trial indicated the drug may reduce the length of illness derived from COVID-19 infections.

Nasal spray. In late September, officials at Australian biotech company Ena Respiratory reported that a nasal spray used to treat colds and flu was highly effective in an animal study in reducing SARS-CoV-2 replication. Human trials are scheduled to start soon.

Nitric oxide. In October, Nitric Oxide Innovations (NOI) LLC announced plans to begin a phase 2B and 3A outpatient clinical study of NOviricid, an oral lozenge that stimulates the production of nitric oxide in the body.

The study will enroll African Americans, a group that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Earlier research has suggested that nitric oxide might work as a treatment for COVID-19 by improving blood vessel function. It may also prevent certain viruses from replicating.

Synthetic antibodies. In mid-August, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco announced they had created synthetic antibodies that may neutralize the new coronavirus.

The compound still has to go through clinical trials, but the scientists said it could be available within a few months in a nasal spray or inhaler.

Repurposed drugs. A study released in September 2021 reported that there are nine currently used drugs that could possibly be repurposed to treat COVID-19. In a trial on human cells, the researchers said these drugs help stop the novel coronavirus from replicating after it has entered a cell. The drugs have not been tested yet on patients.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. These drugs received emergency use authorization from the FDA at the end of March.

On June 15, the FDA revoked that authorization, citing studies that indicated hydroxychloroquine didn’t significantly help people with COVID-19 and may have caused serious health risks.

At the time of the FDA authorization in March, manufacturer Novartis donated about 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine and 1 million doses of chloroquine to the nation’s existing Strategic National Stockpile.

The United States is now left with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine and 2 million doses of chloroquine in its emergency stockpile.

Clinical results for the drugs have been mixed. Studies published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the drugs didn’t help people with COVID-19.

In late May, the World Health Organization announced it was halting its clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine due to safety concerns.

In mid-June, the National Institutes of Health halted its clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine after data showed that the drug was no better than an inactive placebo.

In late June, British officials announced they would restart a global clinical trial on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

In late July, scientists in Brazil announced that hydroxychloroquine given alone or with other drugs didn’t improve the condition of people hospitalized with mild to moderate COVID-19.

In late September, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that hydroxychloroquine was no more effective in preventing the contraction of the new coronavirus in people who took the drug as opposed to those who didn’t.

In early March, the a panel of experts from the WHO stated that hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Clinical trial stages

  • Phase 1. The drug is given to a small number of healthy people and people with a disease to look for side effects and figure out the best dose.
  • Phase 2. The drug is given to several hundred people who have the disease, looking to see whether it works and if there are any side effects that weren’t caught during the initial testing.
  • Phase 3. In this large-scale trial, the drug is given to several hundred or even up to 3,000 people. A similar group of people take a placebo, or inactive compound. The trial is usually randomized and can take 1 to 4 years. This stage provides the best evidence of how the drug works and the most common side effects.
  • Phase 4. Drugs that are approved for use undergo continued monitoring to make sure there are no other side effects, especially serious or long-term ones.

Read this article in Spanish.

 



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