GENEVA – The World Health Organization convened outside experts Tuesday to try to speed the development of tests, treatments and vaccines against the new coronavirus, as doctors on the front lines experiment on patients with various drugs in hopes of saving lives in the meantime.
The 400 scientists participating in the meeting – many remotely – will try to determine which approaches seem promising enough to advance to the next step: studies in people.
“We prioritize what is really urgent, what we absolutely need to know to fight the outbreak, to develop drugs, vaccines,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, co-chair of the meeting and a viral-disease specialist at the French research institution INSERM. That will allow science to “focus on what is the most pressing issue and not to disperse too much the efforts.”
Also on the agenda: Is it possible to build a standing supply of drugs similar to the vaccine stockpiles that exist for diseases such as yellow fever and Ebola?
“If any of these drugs does show an effect, there will be massive demand,” Dr. Graham Cooke, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said earlier this week.
There are no proven treatments or vaccines for the new and still-mysterious virus, which has infected more than 43,000 people worldwide and killed over 1,000, with the overwhelming majority of cases in China. And while several labs have come up with tests for the virus, there is no quick means of diagnosis, and results take time.
“It's hard to believe that just two months ago, this virus – which has come to captivate the attention of media, financial markets and political leaders – was completely unknown to us,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the start of the meeting.
The flu-like disease, officially named COVID-19 on Tuesday, has ranged from mild to serious and can cause pneumonia.
Doctors give patients fluids and pain relievers to try to ease the symptoms, which can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In the case of those who are severely ill, doctors use ventilators to help them breathe or a machine that pumps and oxygenates their blood outside the body, easing the burden on the heart and lungs.
Beyond those standard treatments, doctors are looking at using drugs that have already been approved to fight other viruses, or experimental medications.
At least two studies in patients are already underway in China: one of a combination HIV drug containing lopinavir and ritonavir, sold in the U.S. as Kaletra, the other of an experimental drug named remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences.
Error allows release of infected person
SAN DIEGO – A labeling error caused a person infected with the novel coronavirus to be mistakenly released from a hospital and returned to a San Diego military base where more than 200 evacuees from China are living under federal quarantine, officials said Tuesday.
The patient, who was sent back to a hospital and placed in isolation, was the 13th known case of the virus in the United States and the first among hundreds evacuated by the U.S. government from China. They are under two-week quarantines at military bases in California, Texas and Nebraska.
Details about the error unfolded on a celebratory day for 195 other evacuees whose two-week quarantine ended on different California military base.