The Pasteur Institute in the northern French city of Lille has confirmed the discovery of a “very promising” drug in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, without naming it. FRANCE 24 spoke to the institute’s director-general about the potential new cure ahead of the first clinical trials.
Hope in the time of Covid-19. As infection rates climb in many European countries, including France, the Pasteur Institute in Lille recently confirmed the discovery in June of a drug molecule that has shown promise as a therapeutic treatment against the virus.
Like hydroxychloroquine — which was controversially touted as a possible treatment early on in the pandemic — it is not a new medicine, but one that has been used in the past to treat other conditions. It’s name has been kept a closely guarded secret, largely to avoid the same media frenzy that surrounded hydroxychloroquine, before it was largely discredited.
The unnamed drug has already undergone a number of laboratory studies, which found that it demonstrated “considerable power against the virus,” according to Dr. Benoît Deprez, scientific director of the Pasteur Institute in Lille.
The drug is expected to begin early clinical trials — which could cost an estimated €5 million — this winter, before being approved for use in patients with confirmed Covid-19 diagnoses. FRANCE 24 spoke with the director-general of the Pasteur Institute in Lille, Dr. Xavier Nassif, about the research centre’s potential “discovery”.
FRANCE 24: Can you explain a little about the drug discovered by the Pasteur Institute in Lille?
Dr. Xavier Nassif: It was discovered through drug repositioning [or when a laboratory investigates whether an existing medicine can be used for new therapeutic purposes]. We had the opportunity to access a bank of 2,000 drug molecules at the beginning of the pandemic. These 2,000 molecules were then repurposed. Many were identified as active, but at fairly high doses compared with the rates at which they could be used.
The molecule that stood out is not only active, but more importantly capable of blocking the virus from replicating in cells at rates compatible with normal human use. What’s more, this drug, which has been in use for years, has very few side effects and is generally well tolerated. Which makes it a strong candidate. Further laboratory studies have shown that it blocks the virus from replicating in several types of cells — including in primitive human pulmonary cells.
All of these tests were done in vitro — or in a laboratory — so we’re being cautious, because we still have to confirm the medicine’s efficiency in vivo, meaning whether the molecule is capable of blocking replication as efficiently in humans.
Does this discovery represent a serious hope in the fight against coronavirus?
If we show that this molecule can block viral replication in humans, it is ready for immediate use. It’s a drug with several characteristics: it’s already been given to humans without too many side effects, and it can be administered enterally [or through the digestive tract], instead of through subcutaneous or intravenous routes. Clinical trials will tell us what are the best indications for use.
This would prevent subjects from becoming severely ill once infected. It could also prevent those who come into contact with the subject from becoming carriers of the virus. The drug, when given to asymptomatic patients, could also prevent them from secreting the virus over long periods of time, therefore reducing quarantine. The results of these clinical trials will help us to determine the exact uses of the drug and the eventual impact on how the epidemic is managed.
If the clinical trials are a success, will it be possible to mass produce the drug at low cost?
The molecule we’re talking about isn’t very expensive. It will be up to the manufacturer to see what can be done. We’ve already contacted them to let them know about our discovery. They are very helpful, very cooperative, and I think that the maximum will be done to make this medicine available. In the event that this drug is very efficient and needs to be distributed on a mass scale, measures should be taken at the manufacturing level to respond to the demand.
Will you publish the results of your clinical trials in a scientific journal?
Of course we will. First, we’re going to try to demonstrate the drug’s efficacy in vivo using a macaque monkey as a test subject. If successful, we will of course publish the results. We’re impatient to start animal trials. If all goes well, they should begin in November.
Afterwards, we hope to begin human trials this winter, once we have the necessary authorizations. It’s likely that success using monkeys will speed up the possibility of progressing to human trials.
What is needed before you can start clinical trials?
Clinical trials are expensive. We hope that the communication surrounding our discovery will help us to raise funds from both public and/or private donors. Right now, what we need is money.
This article was adapted from the original in French by Rachel Holman.
WATCH: CNN’s Blitzer corners Trump’s chief of staff for trying to downplay COVID failures
On CNN Thursday, anchor Wolf Blitzer confronted President Donald Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows about his failure to follow public health guidelines and demonstrate leadership in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A study from Columbia University ... found that anywhere from 130,000 to 210,000 lives potentially could have been saved over these past eight, nine, ten months with a more robust federal response," said Blitzer. "Why did the president say just this week when he was asked what he would have done differently, he said not much?"
"Well, I can tell you that if your study says that they can save 210,000 lives, I haven't read it, but it would be very difficult to imagine that scenario ... I don't know that any scientist or any doctor would agree with that particular analysis," said Meadows. "What we have here is a clock that keeps talking about the number of cases that we have. It really doesn't talk about the advances that we need to make on the therapeutics, vaccines and treatment side of things."
US gives full approval to antiviral remdesivir to treat COVID-19
The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday granted full approval to the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, after conditional authorization was given in May.
Gilead said the drug, sold under the brand name Veklury, was the only specific treatment for Covid-19 approved so far under a more rigorous process.
However, other treatments have received authorization for emergency use, though that approval can be revoked once the public health emergency sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Other medications, like the steroid dexamethasone, are also being used in the fight against Covid-19.
Here’s how Missouri’s GOP governor ignored warnings — and caught COVID himself
Missouri Governor Mike Parson is one of the nation’s leading Donald Trump acolytes, right down to refusing to issue a statewide mandate to wear what he has termed “danged masks.”
Like Trump, Parson and his wife Teresa both contracted the COVID-19 virus, thankfully recovering, but only to emerge unbowed as if there was nothing to see here. He won’t consider mask mandates to this day, even as Missouri remains one of the top-spiking states in the nation.
Now, Parson’s Trump-worship has taken an even more pathetic turn. Like the boss man, it turns out he wasn’t about to be deterred by some snowflake concerns over a potential super-spreader setting.