Mar 25, 2020 - Health

Over 100 drugs are in testing in the race to treat coronavirus

Researchers at Copenhagen University in Denmark work on a potential coronavirus vaccine. Photo: Thibault Savary/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists around the world have started dozens of clinical trials, on more than 100 drugs, in the hunt to find a product that could attack the new coronavirus. More data will be coming soon.

The big picture: Expectations need to be tempered. A vaccine is likely a long way off, and failures are inevitable. But some experimental treatments, while they still require more research, are showing promise.

Where it stands: There are more than 100 coronavirus drugs and vaccines in development worldwide, according to Umer Raffat, an analyst at Evercore ISI who has been tracking progress. 

  • The coronavirus has become the pharmaceutical world’s top priority, but safety and efficacy haven’t been proven anywhere yet.

A handful of potential treatments are worth paying particular attention to.

  • Remdesivir: This antiviral drug, made by Gilead Sciences, is the furthest along of any potential treatment. It's in six clinical trials, including two late-stage U.S. studies, and new results should come out next month.
  • mRNA-1273: This drug, made by Moderna, is the first vaccine candidate to enter a clinical trial. Moderna’s CEO said the hope is to get into a final study by this fall, but even if the vaccine proves to be effective, there are major questions how a small drugmaker can scale this to billions of people.
  • Hydroxychloroquine has almost become a household name, after President Trump touted the results from a small, imperfect French study. It's a generic drug, already on the marker and made by several companies. Chinese scientists are in the process of studying it further.
  • INO-4800: An experimental vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Inovio is going to be tested for the first time on 30 U.S. patients next month.
  • Avigan: This influenza treatment, also known as favipiravir and made by Japanese and Chinese companies, has shown “a high degree of safety” among some coronavirus patients, according to Chinese scientists who are testing it.
  • Kevzara: This medication, made by Regeneron and Sanofi, is approved for arthritis and will now be tested in up to 400 U.S. patients in an advanced clinical trial.

Go deeper

WHO temporarily suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization is temporarily pausing tests of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment in order to review safety concerns, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

Why it matters: The decision comes after a retrospective review published in The Lancet found that coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine or its related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death, compared to those who did nothing.

Novavax starts human trials for coronavirus vaccine

Novavax's Nita Patel with a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential coronavirus vaccine at the lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in March. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Novavax began clinical trials of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in Australia on Tuesday, per a statement from the Maryland-based biotechnology firm.

The state of play: 131 volunteers in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane will undergo injections as part of the study, the company's research chief Gregory Glenn said during a briefing, per Australian Associated Press.

The final data for remdesivir is in

Gilead is ramping up production of remdesivir. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Remdesivir, officially branded as Veklury, does indeed work for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to expert reads of the data that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Yes, but: The benefits remain rather limited, as patients on the drug leave the hospital in 11 days vs. 15 days.