The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) says it should soon get results from the clinical trials of drugs that might be effective in treating COVID-19 patients.
The Solidarity Trial started in five parts looking at possible treatment approaches to COVID-19: standard care; remdesivir; the anti-malaria drug touted by US President Donald Trump, hydroxychloroquine; the HIV drugs lopinavir/ritonavir; and lopinavir/ritonavir combined with interferon.
Earlier this month, it stopped the arm testing hydroxychloroquine after studies indicated it showed no benefit in those who have the disease, but more work is still needed to see whether it may be effective as a preventative medicine.
“Nearly 5,500 patients in 39 countries have so far been recruited into the Solidarity Trial,” director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing in Geneva, referring to clinical studies the UN agency is conducting.
“We expect interim results within the next two weeks.”
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said it would be unwise to predict when a vaccine could be ready against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed more than half a million people.
While a vaccine candidate might show its effectiveness by year’s end, he told journalists at the briefing that the question was how soon it could be mass-produced.
There is currently no proven vaccine against the disease, but 18 potential candidates are being tested on humans.
WHO says initial response driven by science
Meanwhile, WHO officials defended their response to the virus that emerged in China last year, saying they had been driven by the science as it developed.
Dr Ryan said he regretted that global supply chains had broken, depriving medical staff of protective equipment.
“I regret that there wasn’t fair, accessible access to COVID tools. I regret that some countries had more than others, and I regret that front-line workers died because of [that],” he said.
He urged countries to get on with identifying new clusters of cases, tracking down infected people and isolating them to help break the transmission chain.
“People who sit around coffee tables and speculate and talk [about transmission] don’t achieve anything. People who go after the virus achieve things,” he said.