New Delhi : In the last two years, since the Covid pandemic began, dozens of drugs have been repurposed to treat the viral infection. While some like the steroids and IL-6 receptors have stood the test of time, many others have not.
Public health experts say vaccines available against Covid-19 will certainly help reduce the incidence of the disease and morbidity and mortality caused by it. But, they add, developing anti-viral drugs to treat the infection is equally important.
“The global efforts to develop vaccines against Covid has been a great success. More importantly, we have been able to do this in record time. But now, focus must shift on developing drugs to treat the disease,” Dr N K Mehra, emeritus scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said. He added that most of the drugs used for Covid management so far have been old ones that were repurposed to treat the viral infection or manage symptoms caused by it.
“Regeneron, monoclonal antibodies that were used to treat former US President Donald Trump, is the only drug developed specifically for Covid management. It binds to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, virus that causes Covid, and blocks it from invading human cells, thus reducing the risk of virus replications and preventing serious illness,” Dr Rajesh Chawla, senior consultant, pulmonology and critical care at Apollo Hospital, said.
Monoclonal antibodies have been used to treat some patients suffering from Covid at AIIMS, too, Dr Randeep Guleria, the director of AIIMS, told TOI.
But the mainstay of Covid management are steroids and IL-6, which prevent the immune system from overreacting dangerously. The latest guideline by WHO recommends them strongly for administration in patients who are severe or critical. They are not recommended for non-severe cases. The WHO does not recommend anti-viral drug Remdesivir for patients with Covid at any severity. When the second wave was at its peak in India in April-May, the anti-viral drug was in very high demand and hapless patients purchased it at inflated rates because some of the initial studies suggested it helped in reducing the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease.
Similarly, there was a rush to get convalescent plasma therapy. That, too, has been proven to be ineffective and many studies suggest that the administration of the convalescent plasma — blood plasma derived from patient’s who had recovered from the disease — actually caused harm to the patient. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which is an anti-malarial drug, was used to treat admitted patients, in addition to its use among healthcare workers for prophylactic purposes. New evidence doesn’t support its use.
Other repurposed drugs that were popular in the beginning of the pandemic, but failed to stand the test of time include anti-viral drug Fabipiravir, anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin and the use of antibiotic therapy, among others. Ivermectin was, in fact, removed from the list of drugs recommended for Covid management last week.