Tuesday, January 18

The United States invests more than 3,000 million dollars in the search for a pill against Covid


Madrid

Updated:

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A year and a half after the start of the pandemic, science has been unable to develop an effective drug to treat Covid. We have vaccines, but not antivirals capable of controlling the infection when the contagion has already occurred. One after another, old and new antivirals have been failing and the United States Government has decided to promote its development with an investment of 3,200 million dollars, as announced by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite vaccines, Covid research is still very much needed. The coronavirus will be a perennial threat. Having an effective pill that you can take as soon as you receive a positive test result could avoid hospital admissions and save many lives. It does not seem like an unattainable challenge because it has already been achieved with other viruses as dangerous as AIDS or hepatitis C.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Donald Trump launched Operation ‘Ward Speed’ to accelerate the arrival of treatmentsBut it invested more money in vaccine development than in treatments. The new antiviral program try to fill this void.

The rain of dollars will accelerate the clinical trials of some drug candidates already underway to fight Covid and other completely new ones. If all goes well, some of those pills might be available for end of this year. The money will also go towards researching treatments for other viruses that could cause pandemics in the future.

Early treatment

At the beginning of the pandemic, researchers began testing existing antivirals in people hospitalized with severe Covid-19. But many of those trials did not show any benefit. Now it is known that this decision may have been a mistake. The best time to try to block coronavirus is in the early days of the diseasewhen the virus is replicating rapidly and the immune system has not yet mounted a defense.

Many people squash the infection and recover, but in others, the immune system fails and begins to damage tissues instead of viruses. It is this self-inflicted damage that sends many people with Covid-19 to the hospital, as the replication of the coronavirus it is decreasing. Therefore, a drug that blocks replication early in an infection could fail in a trial in patients who have progressed to later stages of the disease.

The Ebola drug

So far only one antiviral has shown a clear benefit for hospitalized people: remdesivir. Initially investigated as a potential cure for Ebola, the drug appears to shorten the course of Covid-19 when administered by intravenously to the patients. In October, it became the first antiviral drug, and so far, it is the only one to get the FDA approval to treat disease.

However, the performance of remdesivir has left many disappointed researchers. In November, the World Health Organization recommended do not use the medicine.

Remdesivir might work more effectively if people could take it earlier, in the course of Covid-19 in pill form. But in its approved formulation, the compound does not work orally. It cannot survive passage from mouth to stomach and circulatory system.

Researchers around the world are testing other antivirals that it is already known that they work in pills. One of those compounds, called molnupiravir, was developed in 2003 by researchers at Emory University and has been tested against viruses such as influenza and dengue.

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