By Stephanie Nebehay and Josephine Mason
GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) should soon get results from clinical trials it is conducting of drugs that might be effective in treating COVID-19 patients, its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
"Nearly 5,500 patients in 39 countries have so far been recruited into the Solidarity trial," he told a news briefing, referring to clinical studies the U.N. agency is conducting.
"We expect interim results within the next two weeks."
The Solidarity Trial started out in five parts looking at possible treatment approaches to COVID-19: standard care; remdesivir; the anti-malaria drug touted by U.S. President Donald Trump, hydroxychloroquine; the HIV drugs lopinavir/ritonavir; and lopanivir/ritonavir combined with interferon.
Earlier this month, it stopped the arm testing hydroxychloroquine, after studies indicated it showed no benefit in those who have the disease, but more work is still needed to see whether it may be effective as a preventative medicine. [nL8N2DV2Z3]
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, said it would be unwise to predict when a vaccine could be ready against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed more than half a million people. [nL8N2C60GZ]
While a vaccine candidate might show its effectiveness by year's end, the question was how soon it could be mass produced, he told the U.N. journalists' association ACANU in Geneva.
There is no proven vaccine against the disease now, while 18 potential candidates are being tested on humans.
WHO officials defended their response to the virus that emerged in China last year, saying they had been driven by the science as it developed. Ryan said what he regretted was that global supply chains had broken, depriving medical staff of protective equipment.
"I regret that there wasn't fair, accessible access to COVID tools. I regret that some countries had more than others, and I regret that front-line workers died because of (that)," he said.
He urged countries to get on with identifying new clusters of cases, tracking down infected people and isolating them to help break the transmission chain.
"People who sit around coffee tables and speculate and talk (about transmission) don't achieve anything. People who go after the virus achieve things," he said.
(Editing by Michael Shields and Andrew Cawthorne)