As Death Toll Climbs, WHO Finds No Benefit with 4 Top COVID-19 Treatments

Kate Goodwin

Michel Passet / Shutterstock

Once touted as promising treatments and by some even a cure, the World Health Organization dashes those claims, finding no benefit in the use of four popular COVID-19 treatments (remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, or interferon-beta-1a) on hospitalized patients.  

Starting as early as February, WHO has been exploring the use of repurposed drugs as treatment options for the coronavirus disease to decrease the mortality rates of the virus. They lined up treatments that appeared potentially effective and in March launched a large, international, open-label trial involving hospitalized patients to evaluate the effects. One by one the drugs fell like disappointing dominoes, proven by the numbers to have no effect on preventing in-hospital death, reducing the need for ventilation or shortening the duration of hospitalization.  

The WHO Solidarity Trial is an ongoing one where drugs can be removed or added in as findings continue to roll in. The interim results of the open-label study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine

For these results, 11,226 patients in 405 hospitals across 30 countries in the six WHO regions were assigned to either receive one of the four drugs listed above, or be part of the control group. Some of the patients receiving interferon also were administered lopinavir. The rest, the control group, received care based on each hospital’s standard. 81% of the patients were under 70 and 25% had diabetes. 

After a median of 8 days, a total of 11.2% of patients died. Regardless of type, patients receiving treatment died at right around a 1 to 1 ratio with the control group.  

“No drug definitely reduced mortality, overall or in any subgroup, or reduced initiation of ventilation or hospitalization duration,” the authors wrote. 

Based on these findings, the WHO began dropping drugs from the trial – hydroxychloroquine on June 19th, lopinavir on July 4th and interferon on October 16th. 

“The Solidarity trial has been recruiting approximately 2,000 patients per month, and efficient factorial designs may allow it to assess further treatments, such as immune modulators or anti–SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies,” the authors said. 

Some limited hope remains for remdesivir, the “wonder drug” touted by President Trump after his own COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment. While the drug has not been found to reduce death rate, when given early some studies have shown it may shorten time to recovery in hospitalized adults. Approved in October for the treatment of COVID-19, the WHO recommended against it on November 20th.  

Meanwhile, biopharma companies continue to race towards providing treatments and preventative vaccines as the death toll climbs and hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. Particularly in smaller communities, hospitals are overflowing and understaffed as healthcare workers are exposed or get sick themselves and are forced to quarantine. In Ohio, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID is up 650% in the last 60 days. Across the country, a record-breaking 100,667 Americans are hospitalized as of December 3rd, and over 276,000 have died.  


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