What treatments are there for coronavirus?

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
·3-min read

The head of NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, has said he hopes more treatments for Covid-19 will become available in the future and that the disease will become much more treatable.

A number of treatments have already been through trials and are being used to increase people’s chances of survival.

Most of these are existing drugs that are now being used to treat coronavirus.

Sir Simon told the Downing Street press conference: “Fundamentally the driver of the death rate is the infection rate, set against that we are seeing continuing improvements in hospital treatment for severely sick coronavirus patients.”

He added: “We do expect that there will be more treatments for coronavirus looking out over the next six to 18 months, perhaps.

“We’ve already seen those with some of the corticosteroids, some of the rheumatoid arthritis drugs that have been repurposed, there are antivirals in the pipeline.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

“So, looking out, I think we can see a world in which coronavirus may be more treatable.

“But for right now, it’s a combination of reducing infections and getting vaccinations done.”

So what are some of the treatments that are being used?

– Dexamethasone

The cheap and readily available steroid has been found to reduce deaths by up to a third among patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen.

Further data suggests another steroid, hydrocortisone, is also effective. Both calm down inflammation (part of the immune response) in the body, which can become damaging in severe cases.

The NHS has recommended that systemic corticosteroids should be used in patients with severe and critical Covid-19.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Dexamethasone does not work on people with milder symptoms.

– Tocilizumab and sarilumab

NHS patients are being treated with tocilizumab and sarilumab – which are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The move came after results from the Government-funded REMAP-CAP clinical trial showed that both drugs reduced the absolute risk of mortality by 8.5 percentage points when administered to patients within a day of entering intensive care, alongside a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone.

– Interferon beta

The protein treatment that can be inhaled directly into the lungs has been shown to accelerate recovery and reduce the odds of developing severe Covid-19 in hospital patients.

Results of a UK clinical trial suggest patients who received the drug, known as SNG001, were more than twice as likely to recover from Covid-19, compared with those who received a placebo – a substance designed to have no therapeutic value.

– What other drugs are being trialled?

An antibody treatment for coronavirus, used as a passive vaccine to treat Covid-19, has shown positive results according to interim trial results.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said there was a reduction in overall infections seen within the first week, with 100% prevention of symptomatic infections.

The company also reported that there were markedly decreased levels and duration of viral shedding in asymptomatic infections that still occurred in a REGEN-COV group trialled in the US.

Phase three results are expected early in the second quarter of this year.

On Tuesday Eli Lilly announced results from the Blaze-1 and Blaze-4 trials looking at the neutralising antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab.

The company said data from US clinical trials suggests that together the drugs reduced risk of Covid-19 hospitalisations and death by 70%.