Three new candidate drugs are being tested in the latest phase of global Solidarity clinical trials to find effective treatments against COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Wednesday.
The therapies — artesunate, imatinib, and infliximab — will be tested on hospitalised COVID-19 patients in 52 countries under the Solidarity PLUS programme.
There have been more than 203 million cases of the disease recorded globally as of Wednesday, according to WHO.
The world hit the 200 million mark last week, just six months after cases passed 100 million.
Speaking during a press conference in Geneva, WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus underscored the critical need to find more effective and accessible COVID-19 therapeutics.
“We already have many tools to prevent, test for, and treat COVID-19, including oxygen, dexamethasone, and IL-6 blockers.
“But we need more, for patients at all ends of the clinical spectrum, from mild to severe disease. And we need health workers that are trained to use them in a safe environment,” he said.
The three drugs were selected by an independent panel for their potential in reducing the risk of death in people hospitalised for COVID-19.
They are already being used to treat other conditions.
Artesunate is a medicine for severe malaria, imatinib is used for certain cancers, including leukemia, while infliximab is used to treat Crohn’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases of the immune system.
Manufacturers Ipca, Novartis, and Johnson & Johnson donated the drugs for the trial.
Solidarity PLUS is the largest global collaboration among WHO’s 194 Member States, with thousands of researchers in over 600 hospitals participating.
Finland is among the 52 countries taking part, 16 more than the initial Solidarity Trial, and contributes to the COVAX vaccine solidarity initiative. Two university hospitals in Finland have been the first worldwide to begin the second phase.
Hanna Sarkkinen, the country’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, said clinical trials had a great potential to save lives.
“Even though there are approximately 3,000 clinical studies on COVID-19, most of them are too small to yield significant information. We need clinical trials that are large enough to bring better treatments for COVID-19 patients,” she said.
Four drugs were evaluated under the initial Solidarity Trial in 2020, which showed that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, and interferon had little or no effect on hospitalised patients with COVID-19.