World Health Organization eyes cancer drug in treating COVID-19

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Medical technologists work inside the The Lord’s Grace Medical and Industrial Clinic, a molecular diagnostic laboratory in Pasay City on September 29, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Health experts are set to test a cancer drug as a possible cure for coronavirus disease, after earlier clinical trials on HIV and malaria drugs showed little effects in treating the respiratory illness.

The Department of Health on Friday said the World Health Organization (WHO) has included acalabrutinib in its clinical trial for COVID-19 treatments.

“About 2 weeks ago dinagdag ng WHO yung gamot na acalabrutinib. This is a chemotherapeutic regimen,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

The drug, however, has yet to arrive in the Philippines.

According to the database of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, acalabrutinib is an orally administered compound that has been used in clinical trials for the treatment of Myelofibrosis, Ovarian Cancer, Multiple Myeloma, and Hodgkin Lymphoma, among others. An NIH article also cited a study showing that acalabrutinib was “associated with reduced respiratory distress and a reduction in the overactive immune response in most of the treated patients.”

The inclusion of acalabrutinib in the Solidarity Trial comes as the WHO announced that initial results from the multi-country Solidarity Trial showed that the first four drugs and drug combinations studied showed little effect on COVID-19 patients.

The WHO release said that the trials “indicate that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients.”

The hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir arms of the Solidarity Trial were discontinued in July after they showed little positive effect on the patients. Hydroxychloroquine was initially used for malaria while lopinavir and ritonavir are HIV drugs.

The pre-print report on the interim trial results of the said study, published on the MedRxiv website, was the first time the public learned that remdesivir and interferon also had little or no effect on COVID-19.

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug while interferon is a molecule used to regulate inflammation in the body.

While the news caused disappointment, Vergeire pointed out that the Solidarity Trial was designed as an “open study.”

“Ibig sabihin kapag dumating tayo sa point na ang isang gamot ay matagpuan o makapagbigay ng ebidensya base sa mga pasyenteng binibigyan nito na hindi sya effective at nakakapagbigay sya ng more harm than good, pwedeng itigil ang mga gamot na iyan during the course of the trial and pwede rin tayong magdagdag ng specific arms,” she explained.

(This means that if we come to a point that a drug is found to be not effective or have caused more harm than good, it can be halted in the course of the trial and we can add other medication arms.)

She said the WHO is still exploring other anti-viral drugs that can be included in the trial.

The health official said they will be meeting with the proponent of the Solidarity Trial in the Philippines this afternoon to learn more about the interim results of the trial globally since the proponent already met with the WHO and other countries the other day.

She said the DOH will give updates on it on Monday.

In its release, the WHO emphasized that the progress achieved by the Solidarity Trial, which is done in more than 30 countries including the Philippines, “shows that large international trials are possible, even during a pandemic, and offer the promise of quickly and reliably answering critical public health questions concerning therapeutics.”

“Newer antiviral drugs, immunomodulators and anti-SARS COV-2 monoclonal antibodies are now being considered for evaluation,” the WHO added.

Until now, there has been no approved treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, which has infected more than 38.8 million people and claimed the lives of more than 1 million.

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COVID-19, coronavirus, DOH, Department of Health, COVID-19 clinical trials, acalabrutinib, clinical trials, Solidarity Trial, World Health Organization, remdesivir,



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