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Rival drug manufacturers initiate joint trials for COVID-19 medicine

Rival drug manufacturers AbbVie, Amgen and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, revealed they have started to treat patients in a trial to rapidly demonstrate whether a drug from each company can be repurposed and used against COVID-19, the coronavirus-caused disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an “all hands on deck moment”, David Reese, Amgen’s chief of research and development told Reuters. “We needed a trial to be able to sift through multiple agents and prioritise quickly.”

The study is a joint effort between pharmaceutical industry members of the recently-formed COVID Research & Development Alliance, Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative, a collaboration of medical researchers and investors, and the US Food and Drug Administration.

The first segment will evaluate whether Amgen’s psoriasis medication Otezla, Takeda’s anti-inflammatory Firazyr and AbbVie’s cenicriviroc, which has been tested on HIV patients, can help with the overactive, and potentially harmful, immune response that often occurs in patients with extreme COVID-19.

Quantum Leap co-founder Dr Laura Esserman told Reuters that the “adaptive platform” of the study means several treatment candidates can be tested simultaneously, with the most promising moving forward and the least promising dropping out.

“We could have some results in as early as six weeks,” she said, adding that the roster would soon be reinforced with additional medications.

Company officials said Otezla could be able to suppress inflammation from an overactive immune response; Firazyr may help limit fluid in the lungs; and cenicriviroc may reduce the severity of acute respiratory distress caused by the virus, which blocks the activity of specific immune system cells.

The drugs are being dosed in conjunction with the antiviral drug remdesivir from Gilead Sciences and generic steroid dexamethasone, all of which have been shown to benefit COVID-19 patients in comprehensive trials and are now considered standard treatment, Dr Esserman said. Remdesivir and dexamethasone will only be given to a comparative group of patients.

Hospitals with COVID-19 patients have tested other anti-inflammatory medicines, including Regeneron’s Kevzara and Roche Holding’s Actemra, but studies of both arthritis medications also failed to demonstrate efficacy. Research Actemra, in conjunction with remdesivir continues with Roche.

The current adaptive COVID-19 trial of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is researching remdesivir along with Olumiant, an arthritis medication marketed by Eli Lilly and Company. Next month we are expecting those results.

Hundreds of clinical trials have been conducted around the world to test whether proven medicines or new substances could be successful therapies since the epidemic began seven months ago, killing more than 675,000 people worldwide.

“There are vast numbers of trials that have stood up around the world with all the right reasons, but others are smaller-what we would call underpowered-and do not offer conclusive answers,” said Amgen’s Reese.

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