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Australian university starting human trials on possible coronavirus cure

Lab research. (Pixabay/Released)
March 18, 2020

Scientists in Australia have been given permission to proceed with human trials for two existing drugs that may also act as a cure for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the University of Queensland Australia announced it will begin its initial human trials to test two potential coronavirus treatments using existing drugs used for HIV and malaria patients.

The HIV drug is known as remdesivir, and the malaria drug is known as chloroquine, Asia Times reported.

Anecdotal evidence suggests both drugs were used as treatments in China, where the coronavirus outbreak first appeared, however, China has not released trial data to confirm these findings.

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“There is some data from China, although it’s a bit murky because it was really undertaken in a situation of extremis, meaning their hospitals were overrun,” said professor David Paterson of the University of Queensland Center for Clinical Research.

The drugs have already been used successfully in some limited instances among Australian patients, but Paterson said his study would measure the viability of those treatments in a more controlled, comparative setting.

Paterson said both drugs proved effective when introduced into test-tube environments with COVID-19 and now researchers want to see if those same results can be replicated in human cases.

Paterson said his university and other participating Australian infectious disease researchers would be using the same test protocols to test the two possible drugs. Those tests would include a test treatment with each drug used separately, as well as treatment with both the HIV and malaria drugs combined.

“We know that in the test tube and in the patients that have been studied so far, they’re able to recover and have no more evidence of virus in their system,” Paterson said.

Australian researchers reportedly made the decision to move forward with the testing after acquiring A$750,000 (approximately $451,415 in U.S. currency) in donations to cover their research costs.

Paterson said that the trials could return a conclusion in “as short as three months.”

The effort to develop treatments for coronavirus comes as health experts have widely indicated a vaccine could still be 12 to 18 months away.

The Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle began its initial phase of coronavirus vaccine testing on humans on Monday. The Pentagon-funded Canadian company Medicago also said it had developed a potential vaccine just 20 days after receiving the COVID-19 genetic sequence.

Globally, the number of coronavirus cases has now surpassed 200,000 globally as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracking map.