Doctors are testing HIV drugs against the Wuhan coronavirus as scientists scramble to halt the outbreak

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Doctors are testing HIV drugs against the Wuhan coronavirus as scientists scramble to halt the outbreak

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Wuhan hospitals

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Doctors are testing drugs used to treat HIV and other viruses against the new Wuhan coronavirus.

  • Several clinical trials have started to test medications that combat HIV and other viruses as potential treatments for the novel Wuhan coronavirus.
  • In the past few days, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, and Gilead Sciences have donated supplies of their antiviral medications to Chinese health officials.
  • The first US patient infected with the coronavirus received treatment with Gilead's antiviral, leading researchers to call for additional testing. 
  • Another handful of drugmakers have started to develop vaccines. Those efforts are likely to require a longer timeline to reach patients, compared to using existing antiviral drugs. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In the search for an effective treatment against the novel coronavirus, scientists and doctors are focusing on a group of medications already used to treat HIV and other devastating viruses.

Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie and Gilead Sciences have all donated antiviral drugs to Chinese health authorities to run tests against the virus. If effective, these drugs could be a short-term solution to help treat patients in an outbreak that's already infected more than 24,000 people and killed nearly 500.

Using existing drugs helps the world's health system speed up its response to the global public-health emergency. Pharma companies are also racing to develop vaccines, but those efforts are likely to take longer, because vaccines typically require multiple rounds of clinical testing that can span several years. 

There are nine ongoing clinical trials testing various drugs, mainly antiviral therapies, against the coronavirus, industry publication Biocentury reported. Six of those studies are testing medicines approved to treat HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C. 

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In theory, these drugs could treat the Wuhan coronavirus, because they work by stopping viruses from reproducing themselves inside the body.

Read more: Drugmakers are dusting off their Ebola playbooks as they race to develop coronavirus treatments and vaccines. Here's how 5 top firms are tackling a contagion that's already killed 400.

First US coronavirus patient was treated with Gilead's drug

The first coronavirus patient in the US was treated with an experimental antiviral medicine developed by the biotech Gilead. Called remdesivir, the treatment appeared effective, although the researchers who reported the case cautioned that randomized, controlled testing is needed to determine its safety and efficacy. Remdesivir was initially developed to fight Ebola.

Gilead has donated enough of the drug for 500 patients to Chinese health officials, with plans for local hospitals to run testing, Merdad Parsey, Gilead's chief medical officer, said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News

Results from those tests could be available in as soon as two months, Parsey added. The California biotech is also in the process of boosting its manufacturing of remdesivir, according to Jefferies analyst Michael Yee.

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Donations from other drugmakers include AbbVie, J&J

Other major drugmakers have also sent antiviral drugs to China in response to the outbreak. AbbVie donated about $1.5 million worth of its HIV drug Aluvia after a request from Chinese officials. 

In the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, that therapy showed at least some signs that it could fight the virus, according to a 2004 study of 41 patients. SARS is also a coronavirus, raising hopes that drugs that work against it might also work against the Wuhan coronavirus.

Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson has donated 350 boxes of Prezcobix, its HIV therapy, to Chinese hospitals and health officials.

Read more: A vaccine for Wuhan coronavirus could take years to develop, based on our experience trying to fight Zika and Ebola

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