The seriousness of COVID-19 cannot be understated. Multiple countries have implemented full lockdown policies and millions of people are confined to their homes to prevent the spread of this virus. There is a global effort in finding an effective treatment and vaccine to the virus but best estimates indicate we won’t have a vaccine we can mass produce until late 2020.
But through some clever problem solving, scientists are trying to repurpose treatments originally designed for other diseases for COVID-19. Of the 69 potential treatments discovered scientists are currently focusing on 24 of the most promising.
To be very clear, this idea is still very early in testing and there is no solid evidence that any drugs on this list will have any positive effect on COVID-19. But, the possibility exists and repurposing a drug will be significantly faster than trying to create a treatment from scratch.
Why these 69?
Scientists identified the 69 treatments by “mapping” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19 as well as other coronaviruses.
By studying the genes in the SARS-VoV-2 responsible for targeting human proteins, scientists identified 69 already existing drugs that may affect the same proteins that COVID-19 targets. Of the 69 possible treatments, 24 FDA approved drugs were chosen to focus on.
These 24 drugs treat a wide variety of conditions such as cancer and hypertension. But the drug that is making its way around the internet is chloroquine, a drug that primarily treats malaria. Chloroquine is now in the spotlight because anecdotal evidence indicates it may be effective against COVID-19. There is currently only anecdotal evidence and no scientific evidence yet.
Doctors are urging people not to take chloroquine at this time unless your physician prescribes it. There are serious potentially toxic side effects associated with chloroquine and no evidence that it can help against COVID-19.
Many doctors also advise against it because it created a shortage of the drug for patients who need it. In addition to malaria, chloroquine also treats lupus and many patients are already complaining they either cannot get it or the prices have been severely marked up.
When Can We Expect Results
It is difficult to say how long it will take before we have concrete data. Rigorous testing is required to see if any of these drugs will have significant if any effect on COVID-19. We must be very careful about testing drugs not designed for COVID-19. But there is a huge push for this idea. In addition to multiple public and private labs, the World Health Organization and New York City will also be running independent drug trials. If any of these drugs prove to be effective it may be the shortcut that the world desperately needs.
There is a possibility that none of these drugs will be effective against COVID-19. If that is the case there are still many labs that are taking the traditional route and creating vaccines and treatments from scratch. Those should be ready for mass production within a year.