The novel coronavirus is proving to be a tough bug to crack. In a huge disappointment, the WHO study on the drugs prescribed to prevent and treat Covid-19 has left healthcare providers with no definite medicine for the patients for now. The widely administered remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, interferon or interferon plus lopinavir have all been found to be ineffective in preventing the Covid-afflicted from dying or even in reducing their recovery time as compared with those without drug treatment. That remdesivir, too, is futile is a massive setback. Since its emergency authorisation on May 1 in the US, it has been the only antiviral drug in use for the severely sick. Notably, in August, it was expanded to include all patients.
The finding of the Solidarity trial puts the spotlight on the dark underbelly of the profit-driven, multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. It is shocking that lakhs of patients have been given pills that now seem to have been of no value. As they count their losses (in India, Covid beds in private hospitals cost upwards of Rs 50,000 per day), they may also have to deal with the health repercussions of ingesting these medicines. However, unsurprisingly, remedesivir-maker Gilead has cast a doubt on the study, notwithstanding that its sample size is bigger and more inclusive (covering 30 countries, including India) than any other. Interestingly, the company signed a billion-dollar deal with the European Commission to supply remdesivir a week after it was informed of the WHO conclusions.
While the virus shows no sign of receding as it ravages the world in waves — dipping in India and rearing its head again after a lull in Europe and America — scientists are racing to find the vaccine to combat the disease. Hope rests on the clinical trials at advanced stages, with the flattening of the curve or herd immunity being elusive. But universal vaccination is estimated to take a couple of years, necessitating the urgent need for a medicine to manage the disease. Till then, the world has to live with the virus and without paranoia.