Currently there is no proven treatment or cure for Covid-19, but scientists around the globe are working to find one. In today’s edition of “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains some of the drug names floating around and what we know about them.
President Donald Trump: So chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. Now, this is a common malaria drug.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: That was President Trump last Thursday.
Maybe you’ve been watching the White House briefings and heard from the president that an old drug is being repurposed as an experimental treatment for Covid-19.
Trump: And it’s shown very encouraging — very, very encouraging early results. And we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately.
Dr. Gupta: Last Friday, a reporter asked coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci whether there was any evidence that chloroquine was effective against Covid-19. Fauci said, “No.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal; it was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.
Dr. Gupta: If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
Let me start by saying this: There is currently no proven treatment or cure for the novel coronavirus. But I can see how that might sometimes be unclear, since some drug names are being talked about as if they may be already working.
Names like chloroquine and remdesivir. They’re hard to pronounce — and even harder to prove that they’re effective.
So in this episode, I’ll break down the latest information and also answer some of your questions about possible drug treatments for the coronavirus.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Dr. Gupta: First, let’s talk about how our government officials are describing a drug called chloroquine.
Trump: This has been something that’s been around for many years. It’s been a phenomenal, strong, powerful drug for malaria. But we think it might work on this.
Dr. Gupta: Chloroquine is used to treat malaria, and has been around for decades. But it has not been approved as a treatment for the coronavirus. Here’s CNN’s medical analyst and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Celine Gounder.
Dr. Celine Gounder: This is not a slam dunk. This is early, promising research. But that doesn’t mean this is going to work.
Dr. Gupta: The president also tweeted over the weekend that a related drug, hydroxychloroquine, in combination with an antibiotic commonly known as a Z-Pak, could become quote “game changers.”
This is largely based on a very small study in France that excluded some people who either left the hospital, stopped taking the drug due to side effects, or got worse — including one person who died.
We still don’t have enough evidence that these drugs are effective in humans.
That’s why in some states, they are beginning to experiment.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Hydroxychloroquine, which the president speaks about, and is optimistic about, and we hope for optimistic results, also. We’re actually starting that today.
Dr. Gupta: That’s New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He recently announced that the state had procured thousands of doses of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and would begin trials starting Tuesday.
The state will also begin testing another experimental treatment using the plasma of people who have recovered. It’s called convalescent serum.
Cuomo: What it does is it takes the plasma from a person who has been infected with the virus, processes the plasma, and injects the antibodies into a person who is sick.
Dr. Gupta: The other drug name being floated around is an antiviral called remdesivir. It’s already being tested on adults diagnosed with the coronavirus in the United States and China.
The Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, discussed remdesivir in congressional testimony earlier this month.
CDC Director Robert Redfield: We’re going to know probably by April whether that drug works or not, and that’s important because that’s a drug that can save lives if it works.
Dr. Gupta: Gilead Sciences, which manufactures remdesivir, is pulling back on emergency requests for the drug due to overwhelming demand. The company is instead focusing its efforts on giving out the drug in clinical trials, hoping to prove its effectiveness against Covid-19.
I want to reiterate that we don’t know how effective any of these treatments will be.
While a number of patients have already received drugs like chloroquine and remdesivir, it’s too early to know how much of an impact the drugs actually had. That’s why doctors are conducting studies in the US, China and all over the world, to better understand what happens when you give these drugs to a Covid patient.
Getting the results could take months.
And in the meantime, we have to be careful about creating false hope.
News report: A man in Arizona has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, believing that it would prevent him from contracting coronavirus.
Dr. Gupta: Banner Health, a company that operates acute-care hospitals, released a statement on Monday confirming that a man in Arizona had died after taking a form of chloroquine used to clean aquariums. His wife is currently in critical care. NBC News spoke to the wife who said they learned of the drug’s connection to the coronavirus during a news conference on TV.
In Nigeria, health officials issued a warning about chloroquine, saying three people overdosed on the drug after hearing it described as a possible treatment.
Dr. Gupta: I can’t stress enough how vital it is that you don’t use or consume anything unless specifically recommended by your doctor.
You’re likely to soon hear other drug names mentioned as well. Nevan Krogan, a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biotechnology in San Francisco, worked on a study published last weekend that identified 69 existing drugs that could be tested against the coronavirus.
Nevan Krogan: In total, we identified 332 proteins talking to or connected to the coronaviral proteins. And we identified 69 different drugs and compounds that are known to target at least one of these 332 proteins. And this corresponds to 27 different FDA-approved drugs and the remaining are in clinical or pre-clinical trials.
Dr. Gupta: Krogan said testing out drugs that are already FDA-approved could drastically speed up the process of finding a treatment that is safe and effective for humans.
And then there’s the prospect of a vaccine. Experts say one wouldn’t be ready this year. Drug and vaccine tests take months or years in order to be proven safe for humans, and there are multiple stages of those trials.
But Krogan is optimistic that the global response from scientists now will set a precedent for getting to a solution faster in the future.
Krogan: For me, I would argue that what we’re seeing is a new paradigm of how to do science. And I hope we’re setting up an infrastructure here that could be beneficial, not just for Covid-19, but for the future, for Covid-22, Covid-24 [and] what other virus comes online over the next several years, and they will be coming.
Dr. Gupta: Our best protection for now: social distancing, washing our hands, looking out for ourselves and our loved ones, trying to help out wherever we can, and behaving like we might have the virus.
If you have questions, you can record them as a voice memo and email them to [email protected] — we might even include them in the podcast.
We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.