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Coronavirus diary – Part 45

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In the last instalment, I indicated I would address non-vaccine cures for COVID-19. It is precisely the subject of this part. The point should be made abinitio that alternative cure is an area where developing countries with the political will to do so could blaze the trail.

Given the large ecology of medicinal plants, the cure for COVID-19 lurks somewhere behind the silhouettes of plants. The emergence of new strains that might prove stubborn to be cured by what the vaccine researchers have put out underscores the importance of non-vaccine alternatives to curing COVID-19.

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Vaccine producers, such as Moderna are already broaching the matter of tweaking the vaccines to take care of new strains. For example, Nigeria, a developing country estimates nearly a billion naira for the purchase of vaccines. If it were to deploy that amount to alternative cures, the result would be outstanding. Given the poor state of the country’s infrastructure, Bill Gates, the vaccine enthusiast, has recently adviced the country to invest more in medical infrastructure instead of vaccines. Tell it to the marines. The country and its elite have joined the vaccine binge. However, researchers are already in the race for non-vaccine cures of COVID-19.

According to a report by Deena Beasley of Reuters, Drugmaker Merck & Co, has put a stop to the production of the vaccine candidate V590 and V591, the former a product of collaboration with the nonprofit research organization IAVI, and the latter acquired through the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker, Themis Bioscience. The reason for its action was the failure of the vaccine’s immune responses that were lower than those seen in people who had recovered from COVID-19 as well as those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines in early trials. The good news is that Merck is turning to oral antiviral alternatives. The new focus is the trial medicines, namely, MK-7110 and MK-4482 that the company calls molnupiravir. Molnupiravir, which is being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio, is an oral antiviral being studied in both hospital and outpatient settings. The MK-7110 is an immune modulator and the company hopes to make public clinically meaningful outcomes.

In another report put together by the Healthline Editorial Team on October 27, 2020, and fact-checked by Dana K. Cassell, studies have revealed a link between vitamin D and COVID-19 leading to a conviction that it might help combat the virus. This is coming on the heels of findings of a new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that examined about 216 people with COVID-19 and found inadequate vitamin D in the blood over 80 percent. People who had both COVID-19 and lower vitamin D levels also had a higher number of inflammatory markers such as ferritin and D-dimer, associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes. Besides, they stay longer in convalescence from COVID-19 in the hospital. Again, another small study he did, Dr. Michael F. Holick, who has researched vitamin D and leads the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston University, observed that COVID-19 patients who had adequate vitamin D levels had a lower risk of dying from the disease as well as lower susceptibility to complications therefrom.

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Ivermectin seems to be one drug that is being ‘repurposed’ as COVID-19 treatments. Ivermectin is the active ingredient in medicines that treat human and animal diseases caused by parasites such as mites, lice, and nematode worms. It has been available for these conditions for many decades. Ivermectin is not commonly used to treat head lice in Australia but other countries, including the United States. What does this have to do with COVID-19? In April 2020 Australian researchers published results from a laboratory experiment showing ivermectin could stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from multiplying in animal cells, especially monkeys, under a microscope. A higher dose of Ivermectin was used more than that used for humans. Although of interest, the researchers warned against the conclusion that it could work against COVID-19 in humans. More work, the report stressed, needs to be done to determine its clinical efficacy concerning COVID-19 and humans. However, a recent article by Kaur, H., Shekhar, N., Sharma, S. et al. titled, “Ivermectin as a potential drug for the treatment of COVID-19: an in-sync review with clinical and computational attributes.” Pharmacol.

Rep published January 3, 2021, indicates optimism in human trials. A retrospective cohort study of patients confirmed with SARS-CoV-2 infection hospitalized at a hospital in South Florida who were treated with ivermectin along with usual clinical care found a correlation to lower mortality particularly in patients needing higher inspired oxygen or ventilator support. Similarly, another study reported that ivermectin and doxycycline’s combination to be incredibly efficacious in SARS-CoV-2 clearance in patients with mild to moderate disease. Confirmed COVID-19 patient from Bangladesh who were treated with ivermectin “improved within 72 h, no side effects were observed, intensive care admission was not required, no deaths were reported, and all of them tested negative” Another pilot clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of ivermectin as an additional treatment to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in mild to moderate hospitalized COVID-19 patients proved to be more effective compared to the administration of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in a controlled clinical trial.

The authors have, however, pointed to “its limitation which is that its application is limited because of pharmacokinetic difficulties such as low solubility. These difficulties can be overcome by formulating liposomal ivermectin or other ivermectin formulations with improved properties.” In part 46 of this serial, I shall examine the new strains of COVID-19.

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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