IY”H This treatment will help a myriad of people
As the coronavirus spreads across the world, and the number of people infected is increasing every day, there is an urgent need to find treatments against COVID-19 that could reduce complications and improve recovery. Recently, Israel's Health Ministry has approved multiple experimental treatments, and companies worldwide are attempting to determine what could be used to treat the deadly disease.
Teva, the giant Israeli pharmaceutical company, has announced that it will donate more than six million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets through wholesalers to hospitals across the United States, starting March 31. Over 10 million tablets are expected to be shipped within a month.
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WHAT IS CHLOROQUINE
When Dr. Mike Pellini, a physician and biotech investor, read the news about the spread of a virus that caused pneumonia-like symptoms, he decided to keep on hand a supply of an anti-malarial drug called chloroquine.
Pellini, who tweeted about the decision to his followers in early February, was early to this thinking. A month later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sparked massive interest in the drug after tweeting that chloroquine was “maybe worth considering” as a potential treatment for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
President Donald Trump said he had directed the Food and Drug Administration to investigate whether chloroquine, which is available by prescription only, should be given to patients with the virus. Bayer, the international drugmaker, then noted in a press release that it would donate 3 million tablets of the drug Resochin, or chloroquine phosphate, to U.S. patients. Trump also pointed to another existing drug, remdesivir, an anti-viral developed by drugmaker Gilead, which is already being used in China to treat COVID-19.
So what is chloroquine, and why is it considered so promising by the scientific community?
The drug has been around since the 1940s and is known for being generally safe and well tolerated in mild to moderate doses, although it can be toxic in high doses. It has been used to treat malaria, in addition to some autoimmune disorders. It is available as a generic, which means it could be a scalable and potentially affordable treatment.
“Nothing is definitive yet, but chloroquine is a drug used for more than 70 years with minimal side effects at a modest dosage,” said Pellini.
Malaria is caused by a parasite, not a virus. But some studies have found that chloroquine has been effective at treating a virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a close relative of COVID-19. It is also being studied at research labs throughout the world as a way to alleviate symptoms for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
“It has been found in mice to be effective to treat a variety of viruses,” noted Dr. Kristian Olson, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It also appears it’s active in vitro (via test tube experiments) against COVID-19.”
Some of the early data is promising. A group of researchers in France are testing a less toxic derivative of the chloroquine drug called hydroxychloroquine on a few dozen patients with COVID-19, and early reports of the trial indicate that the drug might help shorten the amount of time that people with the disease are infectious.
“I don’t see Trump’s willingness to jump into humans quickly (to test the drug) as a panicked response,” said Vas Bailey, a life sciences-focused investor at Artis with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “It could be a potentially efficient way of using real-world evidence to help us triage which of these safe drugs will work in alleviating symptoms and treating COVID-19.”
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