Drug Development for COVID-19 | A Second Opinion Podcast | Bill Frist

What is the status of drug development for COVID-19?

People are asking me what I think about the experimental and investigational therapies that might possibly help us turn the tide in the war against the novel coronavirus. The one mentioned by the President yesterday in his press conference is chloroquine. Chloroquine is not FDA approved to be used for the current novel coronavirus … this means it has not been proven to be safe or effective for the virus. Chloroquine is used today primarily for malaria. It has ancient roots in the early medicinal plant use of the indigenous people of Peru. It is a powerful drug that was first produced in 1934 and since the 1950s, has been used for malaria prevention and treatment. It is also used to today for rheumatoid arthritis. Scientific study of this drug has shown that it changes the acidity of the cellular environment and may directly inhibit viral replication, and that is the reason it has been approved by the FDA for urgent clinical trials in slowing the effects and spread of this novel coronavirus.

Another drug is Remdesivir. It is an antiviral drug, similar to Tamiflu (oseltamivir), that acts directly on viral replication – which is when a virus enters a host cell and copies itself to spread infection. While Remdesivir was not very effective in our earlier fight against Ebola, trials are underway today in China and elsewhere to determine if this drug will be effective against today’s novel coronavirus.

In addition to these two leading candidates, there are a host of other promising treatments being aggressively developed by the finest minds in medical science. Over 20 treatments – including antivirals, antibodies, and cell-based therapies – are currently undergoing clinical trials around the world.

But none are available or FDA approved today.

And that brings me to the ultimate preventive agent … a vaccine. It’s a year off. One vaccine is in clinical trials as we speak in Washington state. But for the safety assurances needed to give this vaccine to the whole population without concern of serious side effects, we will need at least 12 to 18 months of trials and quality testing… and that’s at breakneck, record-setting speed.

So be assured… away from the spotlight of our minute to minute news, Doctors, scientists, nurses, public health officials, and entrepreneurs from across the world are coming together to discover and deliver these agents like they never have. Science is important. Science is life-saving. Science WILL provide therapies and prevention for this novel coronavirus.

Hear more on the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic and the recommended steps to keep you and your family safe with our continuing COVID-19 series: