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COVID-19 Italy: Man, 79 recovers after taking Ebola drug

Experimental use in the US has found it speeds up recovery time for COVID-19

Daily Mail UK: Coronavirus cure hopes have today been raised after an infected Italian man in his 70s recovered with the help of an experimental Ebola drug.

Doctors gave the unidentified 79-year-old remdesivir, which researchers around the world have tested in their desperate scramble to find a cure.

Officials in Liguria – the coastal region where the patient lives, which is south of Milan – announced he had recovered and could go home after 12 days in hospital.

Doctors and scientists around the world are scrambling to find a treatment or a vaccine for the coronavirus. Pictured, a medical worker treats a patient in intensive care in Cremona, Italy. Source: Reuters

The drug also showed success in a critically-ill woman in the US and 14 Americans who tested positive for the coronavirus after catching it on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

It comes after scientists hunting a cure for COVID-19 were dealt a blow by a failed trial of another promising drug – one used to treat HIV patients.

Virologists described the results of the study on lopinavir–ritonavir, a combination which is branded as Kaletra and Aluvia, as ‘disappointing’.

Professor Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, said: ‘Other irons in the fire, so fingers crossed on one or more of those.’

Remdesivir was developed 10 years ago as a potential Ebola treatment. It was shelved but has potential as a general antiviral medication, experts say. Source: Stock Image

The Italian man given remdesivir was hospitalised on March 7 with the coronavirus, according to local newspaper Genova Today.

Doctors at San Martino Hospital in Genoa, where he was being treated, made the decision to give him the drug.

Professor Matteo Bassetti, director of the infectious disease clinic at the hospital, said remdesivir ‘seems to work’.

In a joint press conference with the president of Liguria, they announced the man would be allowed to go home because he no longer has the virus.

Professor Bassetti also revealed that other patients in the region had been given remdesivir, local journalists reported.

The promising anti-viral drug works by neutralising a vital enzyme viruses use to reproduce. It is called a RNA polymerase inhibitor.

It was developed 10 years ago by California-based drug firm Gilead Sciences, with the intention of it destroying the Ebola virus.

It effectively treated monkeys infected with Ebola, according to the US National Institutes of Health. But it had little success on humans.

However, it remains a functional antiviral drug which, in lab conditions, can destroy a variety of viruses. Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China said it was ‘highly effective’ against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Doctors in the US have tried it on patients and it managed to speed up the recovery of the first person to be treated for the virus there.

The a 35-year-old man in Washington state, close to Seattle –  whose infection was announced on January 20 – recovered after being given the drug.

He had developed pneumonia after six days in hospital so doctors, desperate to find a way to treat him, started giving him remdesivir the next day, they revealed in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The doctors wrote: ‘On hospital day 8 (illness day 12), the patient’s clinical condition improved’.

His symptoms, apart from the cough, all started to disappear, they said.

A woman who doctors ‘thought was going to pass away’ also recovered in the US after being given the drug.

George Thompson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Davis Medical Center in California, was part of the team that administered the drug, remdesivir, to a sickly American woman who tested positive for the virus on February 26.

Within a day, the woman saw a drop in her ‘viral load’ and her condition began to improve, they revealed earlier this week.

And four passengers who had been diagnosed on-board the infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship were also given remdesivir at a hospital in Japan, the Washington Post reported.

A surgeon at the US National Institutes of Health said the patients all recovered and the drug appeared to have had positive effects.

Richard Childs told the Post: ‘Many of them were probably going to die in a short amount of time, and two weeks later nobody has died and more than half of them have recovered. It’s just absolutely amazing.’

He said, however, that the four were part of a group of 14 who all recovered thanks to the care of Japanese medics, adding: ‘It’s going to take us a while to figure out what the impact of the drug has been.’

A spokesman for the World Health Organization, Dr Bruce Aylward, said remdesivir was the greatest hope so far.

In February he said: ‘There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy. And that’s remdesivir,’ The Telegraph reported.

However, although the share price of manufacturer Gilead has been bucking the global trend and rising during the pandemic, investors are wary about hitching themselves to the speculative treatment.

Financial analysts RBC Capital Markets looked deeper into individual patient data and were sceptical about its prospects.

In a report the company said: ‘Based on our review of the clinical and virological courses, we believe remdesivir’s contribution to efficacy remains unclear, and with a side-effect profile that may not be completely benign,’ Stat News reported.

‘We continue to see a less than 50/50 possibility that the drug is ultimately proven effective.’

The drug is now being trialled on coronavirus patients in China and at the University of Nebraska, according to CNN.

Another drug doctors had high hopes for was a HIV therapy known as Kaletra, which is made of a combination of the medications lopinavir and ritonavir.

In a clinical trial application submitted in the US from Asan Medical Center, in Seoul, South Korea, scientists said: ‘In vitro [laboratory] studies revealed that lopinavir/ritonavir [has] antiviral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).’

Chinese media reported that the drug was successfully used to cure patients with the coronavirus, but the reports have not been scientifically proven.

A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, has dashed these hopes.

Dozens of doctors working in China collaborated on a paper which revealed the lopinavir/ritonavir combination ‘was not associated with a difference from standard care’.

They tried it on a group of 99 patients and compared them to 100 receiving normal hospital care.

The team said their recovery did not happen faster, they were not less likely to die, and the detectable levels of virus in their bodies were similar.

The drug also caused unpleasant side effects for some – 14 people could not complete the two-week course of medication because of effects including rashes, diarrhoea and stomach pain.

Virus expert at the University of Nottingham, Professor Jonathan Ball, said the results were ‘disappointing, but perhaps not unsurprising’.

He added in a tweet: ‘Other irons in the fire, so fingers crossed on one or more of those…’

Featured Image Origin: Genova Today