Researchers in Hong Kong have found that patients experiencing milder illness caused by the novel coronavirus recover more quickly if they are treated with a three-drug antiviral cocktail soon after symptoms appear.
Authors of the study, published in The Lancet on Friday, described the findings as “early, but important.”
They called for larger-scale research on critically ill patients to ascertain if the drug combo could be a viable treatment for them, too.
“Our trial demonstrates that early treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 with a triple combination of antiviral drugs may rapidly suppress the amount of virus in a patient’s body,” said University of Hong Kong professor of microbiology Yuen Kwok-yung (袁國勇), who led the research.
The treatment, which appeared safe in patients, was shown to “relieve symptoms, and reduce the risk to healthcare workers by reducing the duration and quantity of viral shedding (when the virus is detectable and potentially transmissible),” Yuen wrote.
Scientists are racing to identify medicines to use against COVID-19, but there is currently no treatment, cure or vaccine.
The study tracked the virus in 127 adults admitted to six hospitals in Hong Kong after they tested positive.
Of those participating, 86 were given a two-week course of three medicines: interferon beta-1b, a drug used to treat multiple sclerosis; a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir used to fight HIV; and ribavirin, used to treat hepatitis.
A randomly assigned control group of 41 people was just given the lopinavir-ritonavir combination.
Treatment began on average five days after symptoms started and all patients otherwise received standard care, including oxygen therapy.
Researchers then measured how long it took for a swab test for the virus to turn out negative. They found that those taking all three medicines were able to clear the coronavirus in seven days on average (between five and 11 days) — “significantly” shorter than the 12-day average for the control group.
Those on the three-drug regimen also saw a complete alleviation of their symptoms in an average of four days, compared with eight for the control group.
“Future clinical study of a double antiviral therapy with interferon beta-1b as a backbone is warranted,” the study said.
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