The World Health Organization (WHO) will test three new drugs as potential treatments for severe COVID-19 patients as it expands its global trial to 52 countries.
The three treatments; artesunate, imatinib and infliximab were nominated by an independent expert panel for their potential in lowering the risk of death in critical COVID-19 patients.
Artesunate, which is made by Ipca is derivative of artemisinin, an antimalarial drug extracted from Artemisia annua hern and has been widely used in the treatment of malaria and other parasitic diseases for three decades and it’s therefore regarded as being very safe.
In the WHO-backed trial, the drug will be administered intravenously for seven days, using the standard dose recommended for cases of severe malaria.
Another drug, Imatinib that is made by Novartis is a small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor formulated as an oral chemotherapy prescription and is used to treat certain cancers.
Early clinical data suggest that imatinib reverses pulmonary capillary leak, while a randomized clinical trial carried out in the Netherlands indicated that imatinib might confer clinical benefits in severe COVID-19 patients.
WHO says patients taking part in the trial will take the drug orally, once a day, for two weeks.
Produced by Johnson & Johnson, infliximab is a TNF alpha inhibitor, a class of biologics that have been approved for the treatment of certain autoimmune inflammatory conditions for more than 20 years.
Infliximab has shown favorable efficacy and safety in restricting broad spectrum inflammation, including in elderly patients, who are the most clinically vulnerable to COVID-19.
For the trial, the drug will be administered intravenously as a single dose, based on the standard measure given to patients with Crohn’s Disease over extended periods, the UN agency said.
“Finding more effective and accessible therapeutics for COVID-19 patients remains a critical need, and WHO is proud to lead this global effort,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said. The drugs were donated to the trial by the manufacturers.
The first phase of the Solidarity trials was completed last year and saw WHO working with countries worldwide to find effective treatments for the novel coronavirus and gauge their effect on mortality rate.
The new phase of the trial will see 600 hospitals in 52 countries, 16 more than the initial phase and thousands of patients, come on board.
Meanwhile, four drugs have already been evaluated by the trial with results showing that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and interferon had little or no effect on people admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
The expansion of the trial comes as the world battles the hyper-contagious Delta variant.
Countries that have not been able to vaccinate a significant proportion of their population have been particularly hit.
The WHO has so far recommended only two treatments for COVID-19 interleukin-6 receptor blockers, recommended last month, and corticosteroids.
Trials in the United Kingdom last year found dexamethasone, an affordable and widely available steroid, lowered the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilator support.
Canada, Indonesia, Finland, Malaysia and the Philippines are some of the countries taking part in the new trials.