Coronavirus cure: What progress are we making on treatments?

What work is being done to find treatments?

More than 150 different drugs are being researched in different countries. Most are existing drugs that are being trialled against the virus.

  • The UK is running the the world’s largest clinical trial, called Recovery, with more than 12,000 patients taking part – it is one of the few trials to have given a definitive view on which drugs do and do not work
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is running the the Solidarity trial to assess promising treatments in countries around the world
  • Multiple pharmaceutical companies are running trials of their own drugs

There are three broad approaches being investigated:

  • Antiviral drugs that directly affect the coronavirus’s ability to thrive inside the body
  • Drugs that calm the immune system (severe Covid-19 is caused by patients’ immune systems overreacting and damaging the body)
  • Antibodies that can target the virus, taken from either survivors’ blood or made in a lab

It is possible that different drugs will work better at different stages – such as anti-virals at the beginning and immune drugs in late-stage diseases. Combinations of therapies will also be investigated.

The only life-saving drug

Of all the drugs being trialled, only one has been been proven to save lives – dexamethasone – and it is a significant breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus.

The UK’s Recovery trial showed the drug cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that calms down inflammation (part of the immune response) in the body.

Crucially it is also cheap which means it could be used all around the world.

However, the drug does not work on people with milder symptoms.