AbbVie donates $1M+ of the HIV drug that China is now recommending for coronavirus treatment
AbbVie is donating more than $1 million worth of an HIV drug to help combat the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak in China, the company announced on Friday.
China’s National Health Commission has suggested Aluvia, a pill containing lopinavir and ritonavir, as one of two possible treatments for the symptoms of the virus currently known as 2019-nCoV in the absence of effective antiviral medications. The other part is nebulized alpha-interferon.
A crop of drugmakers — now including J&J — is racing to add more potential weapons to the arsenal.
Government officials are rushing to contain and find solutions for an epidemic that originated in the inland city of Wuhan, Hubei but has since popped up in every other region except for Tibet. The Aluvia regimen — two pills per round, twice daily — was included in the third test version of the “diagnosis and treatment plan for new coronavirus infections.”
Guangfa Wang, a Beijing-based pulmonary expert who contracted the virus after visiting Wuhan for an investigation, told China’s Time-Weekly that he took Aluvia as part of his treatment and it appeared to be effective in his case. Shanghai officials said they have adopted this type of HIV drugs since their first patient.
“So far it seems to have certain effects, but we need more clinical observation,” said Hongzhou Lu of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center.
The theory, yet to be proven, is that Aluvia works by blocking a protease that the coronavirus needs for reproduction in the human body. Though it’s not the same protease that the drug was originally designed to block, it might be similar enough to delay disease progression. Because of that, Aluvia had previously also been tested in patients with SARS and MERS.
An anonymous Wuhan doctor interviewed by Time-Weekly said that Aluvia is useful against the novel coronavirus, but it’s “hard to come by.”
AbbVie said on WeChat that it will donate RMB$10 million (around $1.44 million) worth of pills in response to the guidance, though it didn’t specify how it would distribute across the country.
Other drugmakers are also rushing to the call for effective medications. Gilead dusted off remdesivir, an antiviral that missed the mark on Ebola, to see about its potential against the new virus. Moderna is allied with the NIH to develop a vaccine while George Scangos’ Vir has brought out antibodies. A raft of small-cap biotechs triggered a stock rally over potential vaccine candidates that might take years, if ever, to materialize.
On Monday J&J threw its name in the hat, as CSO Paul Stoffels told CNBC about its efforts to create a potential vaccine, testing at least five different constructs in parallel and at the same time building an animal model and preparing the manufacturing infrastructure.
“We are comfortable that can create a vaccine and scale it up,” he said on air.
Treatments are urgently needed as the death toll in China rises to 81, five of them outside Hubei province, with almost 3,000 confirmed cases and double that number of suspected cases even as several cities are on lockdown. So far, five 2019-nCoV cases have been detected in the US.
Social image: AbbVie