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WHO announces three new drugs for latest COVID-19 ‘Solidarity’ clinical trials

A laboratory scientist works at a WHO collaborating research centre in Thailand. Ploy Phutpheng photo

Three new candidate drugs are being tested in the latest phase of global Solidarity clinical trials to find effective treatments against COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday. 

The therapies — artesunate, imatinib and infliximab — will be tested on hospitalized COVID-19 patients in 52 countries under the Solidarity PLUS program.  

There have been more than 203 million cases of the disease recorded globally as of Wednesday, according to WHO data.  The world hit the 200-million mark last week, just six months after cases passed 100 million.

More therapeutics needed 

Speaking during a press conference in Geneva, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus underscored the critical need to find more effective and accessible COVID-19 therapeutics. 

“We already have many tools to prevent, test for and treat COVID-19, including oxygen, dexamethasone and IL-6 blockers. But we need more, for patients at all ends of the clinical spectrum, from mild to severe disease. And we need health workers that are trained to use them in a safe environment,” he said

The three drugs were selected by an independent panel for their potential in reducing the risk of death in people hospitalized for COVID-19. 

They are already being used to treat other conditions.  

Artesunate is a medicine for severe malaria, imatinib is used for certain cancers, including leukemia, while infliximab is used to treat Crohn’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases of the immune system. 

Manufacturers Ipca, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson, donated the drugs for the trial. 

Collaboration yields results 

Solidarity PLUS is the largest global collaboration among WHO’s 194 Member States, with thousands of researchers in over 600 hospitals participating. 

Finland is among the 52 countries taking part, 16 more than the initial Solidarity Trial, and contributes to the COVAX vaccine solidarity initiative.  Two university hospitals there have been the first worldwide to begin the second phase. 

Hanna Sarkkinen, the country’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, said clinical trials have a great potential to save lives. 

“Even though there are approximately 3,000 clinical studies on COVID-19, most of them are too small to yield significant information. We need clinical trials that are large enough to bring better treatments for COVID-19 patients,” she said. 

Four drugs were evaluated under the initial Solidarity Trial last year, which showed that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and interferon had little or no effect on hospitalized patients with COVID-19.   

Final results are expected next month.

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