More cheap drugs are being looked into as potential coronavirus treatments, one expert has told Sky News, while the government has confirmed it has enough stocks of the promising remdesivir despite fears of a global shortage.
The US bought nearly the entire global supply of remdesivir, which has been proven to help some COVID-19 patients recover faster and was tested by UK volunteers.
There were fears this could leave the UK with a limited supply, but the Department of Health has said it had secured supplies of the Ebola drug in advance and had enough to treat every NHS patient who needs it.
In addition, Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at the University of Liverpool, has told Sky News there are a number of alternative drugs which appear promising.
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Speaking to Dermot Murnaghan on the Sky News Daily podcast, Dr Hill said: “There is this whole array of drugs and people shouldn’t think it’s just remdesivir here – there are many different drugs being looked at. I’m working on one at the moment that costs $5 (£4) for a 14-day treatment course.”
He continued: “What I hope happens in the next few months is that we can start seeing these treatments emerge – the likes of daclatasvir, a Hepatitis C drug, or imatinib to treat leukaemia. Favipiravir to treat influenza.”
Favipiravir, a Japanese drug, has shown some positive effects against COVID-19 in laboratory studies, he said.
Seven different trials involving 2,500 patients are looking into daclatasvir, which has also had some promising effects, while studies in India are analysing imatinib’s impact on the coronavirus.
Dr Hill said “cocktails” of these drugs could be obtained “at a very low price”, and they are no longer patented – meaning they would be more easily and cheaply available.
In the case of remdesivir, the drug has been patented by US pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences and is priced at $2,340 (£1,892) per patient for wealthier nations.
Dr Hill said some results of the drug studies will be announced at an international conference next week, adding: “I can’t tell you anything right now. But it’s definitely time to watch this space and think about alternatives too.”
While the hope of alternative coronavirus treatments may alleviate some concern, America’s response has raised fears about whether countries will work together if a COVID-19 vaccine is found.
Dr Hill told Sky News: “You think about this for a treatment. What about if there is a vaccine? What if a vaccine is restricted to the US only?
“This is a taste of things to come and it could get worse. We have to decide whether we want to be strong with the US, or people with COVID-19 suffer, recover more slowly and potentially die faster.”