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HSE ‘being advised’ on early clinical trials for potential Covid-19 treatments

The HSE is being updated and advised on early clinical trials for potential Covid-19 treatments, according to its Chief Clinical Officer.

However, Dr Colm Henry predicted it will be “some time” before rigorous evidence is available for potential treatments.

Asked by the Medical Independent (MI) at a press briefing on Friday (13 March) if the HSE or Department of Health are investigating access to early clinical trials for Irish patients, Dr Henry said: “There are no known effective treatments for this virus, it’s a new virus for which there is no immunity in the population.”

There is also no vaccine and “no prospect of one for a long time”.

“There are some early trials [for potential treatments] taking place in the United States and elsewhere…we have a national lead, Prof Colm Bergin in St James’s, who is advising us and NPHET [national public health emergency team] and its medicines subgroup on the course of trials and any participation for patients in any of these trials.

“Yes it is something we are engaged with but bear in mind it is a new disease, very early in its course, normally when we look at effective treatments in medicine there is an evidence base, it goes through a rigorous process of randomized controlled trials, and assessment of the benefits and harm from the drug.

“In this particular disease, and this particular virus, we have such a short experience . My guess is that before we have rigorous evidence, it is going to be some time.”

There are a number of drugs being tested in relation to treatment of Covid-19.

These drugs include remdesivir, an investigational antiviral originally developed by Gilead as a potential treatment for Ebola virus disease but not approved or licensed.

Gilead has said it is “working closely” with global health authorities to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak “through the appropriate experimental use of the investigational compound remdesivir”. The company said limited pre-clinical data on remdesivir in Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) indicate that it “may have potential activity against Covid-19”.

Some patients with Covid-19 have received intravenous remdesivir for “compassionate use” outside of a clinical trial setting, according to Gilead.

Another drug being investigated for use in Covid-19 treatment is the HIV medicine ritonavir/lopinavir.

AbbVie said it is collaborating with “select health authorities and institutions” globally to determine the drug’s antiviral activity, efficacy and safety against Covid-19. 

The company does not anticipate disruption to the medicine supply for HIV patients as a result of this investigation.

Genentech (a member of the Roche group) has said it is in active discussions with the US FDA, as well as government bodies and institutions around the world, to initiate clinical trials that evaluate the safety and efficacy of tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis drug, for the treatment of severely ill Covid-19 patients.  

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