Secret trial to see docs fight virus with HIV, malaria meds
Exclusive: A handful of Australian COVID-19 patients - some of the first to be infected with the deadly virus - were successfully medicated with malaria and HIV drugs in a secret trial which will now be rolled out around Australia within days.
Such was the success of the secret treatments fifty Australian hospitals will be given HIV medication Kaletra and malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine in a clinical trial which promises to "cure" the virus.
Curing the virus means there will be no trace of it in the body.
Additionally, the outcomes of the first trial of a promising treatment for COVID-19 will be reported within weeks and the drug could be approved for use in China as early as May.
The news comes as News Corp can reveal the federal government will provide researchers with $13 million to fast-track coronavirus treatments.
The cash injection from the Medical Research Future Fund includes $8 million to develop antiviral therapies for people who contract the virus.
Up to 10 treatments are expected to be tested, with the most promising options pushed rapidly through human clinical trials to regulatory approval and commercialisation.
Another $5 million will be spent on clinical trials to help patients with severe acute respiratory distress, which can be fatal, especially among older people and those with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian researchers had "outstanding capacity to contribute to global efforts to control the outbreak and save lives".
He said the funding was part of the government's $2.4 billion coronavirus national health plan.
"Australia has produced some of the world's best medical research," Mr Hunt said.
The World Health Organisation has declared the medication - Remedsivir - to be one of the most promising treatments for COVID-19.
The hunt for a treatment and a vaccine for COVID-19 is proceeding at a spectacular pace with some scientists skipping animal trials as they race to find a way of halting the terrifying death toll.
And scientists and medical journals are freely sharing early results of clinical trials before they are peer reviewed to progress research as quickly as possible.
The use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine on its own also has Australian scientists excited.
In France, scientists have reported success beating COVID-19 using this drug with only 25 per cent of patients treated with the drug still showing signs of the virus compared to 90 per cent of patients who did not receive the treatment in a small trial.
About 35 companies and academic institutions are working to create a vaccine, and four are already testing in animals.
The first human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine began in the US this week with four people injected with a low dose of a vaccine developed by US company Moderna even before animal trials had started.
Another US company Inovio Pharmaceuticals is testing its COVID-19 vaccine in animals and plans to begin human trials next month.
Researchers at Queensland University are hoping to begin animal trials of its COVID-19 vaccine next month and Griffith University announced on Thursday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Queensland-based Luina Bio to work on a vaccine.
However, it could be 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is ready.
Extensive clinical trials are necessary as ferrets, given a vaccine for the 2003 SARS outbreak, suffered a more serious form of the illness following vaccination.
University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research Director Professor David Paterson is heading the Australian clinical trial of a COVID-19 treatment combining HIV medication Kaletra and malaria medication Hydroxychloroquine.
The combination treatment was found to kill off coronavirus in test tubes and completely cleared the virus in a select handful of Australian patients, he said.
"Prior to the clinical trials going ahead, the medications were given to some of the first Australian patients infected with COVID-19, and all have completely recovered without any trace of the virus left in their system," he said.
"These medications have the potential to be a real cure for all, unlike the random anecdotal experiences of some people."
The trial will compare the effectiveness of the malaria drug on its own against the HIV drug on its own.
Other patients will be given the medications in combination.
"This will enable us to test the first wave of Australian patients and gain real-world experience with this treatment, especially since we expect ongoing infections to continue for many months," he said.
"If we can obtain the best possible information now, then we can quickly treat subsequent patients down the track."
Professor Paterson said the drugs to be used in the clinical trials can be administered orally as tablets.
Australia's medicines regulator says it is ready to fast track the approval of any vaccines or treatments to beat the coronavirus.
In relation to the multimillion-dollar grant to researchers, Mr Hunt added: "This is another example of us contributing to address important health challenges for Australians and for the global population."
Researchers will be able to apply for the grants - to be managed by the National Health and Medical Research Council - from next week.
Originally published as Secret trial to see docs fight virus with HIV, malaria meds