COVID-19: Anti-HIV Drugs Used on Italian Couple in Jaipur

Are these drugs effective against the novel coronavirus?

Health News
3 min read
 A medical team sanitizes the Junagarh Fort in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, in Bikaner. 

The Italian couple that had tested positive for COVID-19 in Jaipur, is the first one in India to be administered anti-HIV drugs for the treatment of the novel coronavirus.

According to an article in The New Indian Express, the woman has tested negative for the infection in the past 24 hours, and her husband has also shown ‘low viral load’.

However, in a press briefing held in Delhi on 12 March, Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) warned that it’s best not to draw any conclusions yet as single patient cases are not enough and only a structured study can ascertain their efficacy. “We still need to wait for the effect,” he said.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) had earlier consented to the ‘restricted use’ of a combination of anti-HIV drugs for treating those affected by COVID-19, after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had sought an emergency approval for the use of the two drugs — ‘lopinavir’ and ‘ritonavir’.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had said, “This Lopinavir/Ritonavir combination therapy has been approved for emergency use among COVID-19 patients with moderate degree of severity with laid down protocols. Till now, this combination therapy has been given to two Italian patients hospitalised in Jaipur.”

But Are Antiviral Drugs Effective Against COVID-19?

In a few cases across the world, antiviral drugs have seemed to work against the novel coronavirus.
In a few cases across the world, antiviral drugs have seemed to work against the novel coronavirus.
(Photo: FIT)

As the number of coronavirus cases increases around the world, parallel efforts are on to look for solutions for faster improvement in patients. In a few cases, antiviral drugs have seemed to work.

According to a Reuters report, doctors from Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok have successfully treated severe cases of the virus using a combination of drugs for flu and HIV. In fact, a 70-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, who had tested positive initially, showed improvement within two days. Dr. Kriangska Atipornwanich, a lung specialist at Rajavithi, told reporters that while it is not the cure, the patient’s condition did vastly improve.

Even Chinese health authorities have been administering these drugs while maintaining that there is no effective cure for the virus yet.

However, in all the cases where improvement has been observed in patients, researchers have asserted the need to hold randomized control studies to be sure of the safety and efficacy of these medicines.

In fact, one of the patients in Thailand showed an allergic reaction to the drug cocktail, raising doubts for any universal application.


Possible, but Not yet Certain: Indian Experts on Anti-Hiv Drugs for COVID-19

In an earlier article, FIT had spoken to Dr Naga Suresh Veerapu, a virologist and assistant professor at Shiv Nadar University and Dr Samit Bhattacharyya, head of the Disease Modeling Laboratory at the University, who had both said that though the possibility of the efficacy of these drugs cannot be ruled out, any universal application would require more trials.

“So far, we have only seen a few cases in the world where antivirals worked. Those could be patient-specific. Unless there is a proper trial, we can’t make any statements.”
Dr Samit Bhattacharyya,

He adds, “We are not sure at this stage whether these drugs are stopping or subsiding the symptoms, or actually blocking the virus. These are two separate things. The patients may just be getting relief from the symptoms, but the virus still may be replicating within the body.”

DCGI approval for the restricted use of these drugs can still be justified because they have already been tested for previous illnesses and their safety has been established. This is essentially what ‘repurposing’ of drugs means — which could perhaps be the fastest solution to the pandemic, Dr Veerapu explained.

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