How clinical trials are being used to help treat coronavirus

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As scientists around the world try to find a vaccine and/or cure for coronavirus, using a wide range of methods from old, traditional methods through to the most modern, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is trying to gain some order over what is happening.

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What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is not just one virus; instead, it is a generic name for a group of viruses including SARS and MERS. The most recent is 2019-nCoV (COVID-19). Adaptive phase 1 studies are being used as a means of testing the treatment’s effectiveness.

What are clinical trials?

Clinical trials are studies involving humans and are the main way that scientists find out whether a treatment is effective and whether there are any side effects. Adaptive trials are those that modify aspects of the trial as it progresses, such as the dosage size. Adaptive phase 1 studies are important in learning about the study subject – in this case, the virus – and how it reacts to the treatment.

How are they helping?

According to Time Magazine, trials for a new antiviral drug are being undertaken in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have started. As is usual in the case of Adaptive Phase 1 studies, the drug has not yet been approved for use by any drug regulator and it is still too early to be sure of the outcome.

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Types of drugs involved in some of the studies are anti-malarial drugs, which have shown some success in strains of SARS, and drugs used in treating HIV. Other laboratories are testing stem cell technology. The WHO wants to ensure that the trials in China are designed to rigorous standards using control groups and randomised measures, as is usual in any scientific design. The WHO cannot dictate to scientists what they do or how they conduct their trials, but it does hope that scientists will adhere to the guidelines it published in 2016.

The WHO is working with scientists to standardise the design of studies, which now includes studies on traditional Chinese medicine. This means that scientists are trying to look forward to designing drugs to combat strains of the virus that have not manifested yet. This has been met with concern in some quarters, with scientists fearing that work will stop as soon as the current outbreak is contained.

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