Cocktail of three antiviral drugs helps coronavirus patients recover faster, says study

Cocktail of three antiviral drugs helps coronavirus patients recover faster, says study

A study in The Lancet said the cocktail of interferon beta-1b with lopinavir–ritonavir and ribavirin saw patients improve 5 days earlier than the average.

Pedestrians wear protective masks in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. The study was conducted across six hospitals in the city | Paul Yeung | Bloomberg

Representational image| Pedestrians wear protective masks in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong | Paul Yeung | Bloomberg

New Delhi: Researchers, who have been working to find a treatment for Covid-19 by repurposing existing drugs, claim to have found a cocktail of three drugs that effectively shortens recovery time for patients with a mild to moderate infection.

According to a study in The Lancet, published 8 May, early treatment with the triple combination of antiviral therapy — using interferon beta-1b with lopinavir–ritonavir and ribavirin — helps in reducing the duration of virus shedding and alleviating symptoms.

On the treatment, patients improved more quickly, five days earlier than the average, when compared with a group receiving just a two-drug combination of lopinavir–ritonavir.

“Triple antiviral therapy with interferon beta-1b, lopinavir–ritonavir, and ribavirin were safe and superior to lopinavir–ritonavir alone in shortening virus shedding, alleviating symptoms, and facilitating discharge of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19,” said The Lancet study.

The triple antiviral therapy rapidly rendered viral load negative in all specimens, thereby reducing infectiousness of the patient and their chances of spreading the disease to others.

Of the three antiviral drugs, lopinavir-ritonavir are used to treat HIV whereas ribavirin is an antiviral drug used to treat Hepatitis C. Interferon beta-1b is an injectable medicine used to treat multiple sclerosis, and is known to suppress viral growth.

The study was a preliminary Phase 2 trial conducted to check if a treatment works. However, it does not determine whether the treatment is better than other options.

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How the study was conducted

A total of 127 patients were part of the study, of which 86 patients were randomly selected and administered the triple drug combination.

The remaining 41 patients were assigned to the control group, who only received lopinavir–ritonavir and ribavirin.

All three drugs were taken orally during the study, which was conducted by six major public hospitals in Hong Kong.

In the combination group, 52 patients were admitted to hospital less than seven days from symptom onset and 34 patients were admitted seven days, or more, after symptoms began to show. “The median (average) number of doses of interferon beta-1b received was two. Median time from symptom onset to start of treatment was five days (between four to seven days) for the combination group and four days (between three to eight days) for the control group,” the study said.

Researchers found that patients consuming the triple combination were able to clear the coronavirus in seven days on average (between five and 11 days) against the 12-day average for the control group.

The age, sex and baseline demographics in each group were similar. Fever and unproductive cough were the most common symptoms, while diarrhoea and anosmia (smell blindness) were present in only some.

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