COVID-19: Symptomatic treatments before a vaccine

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The industry, governments and researchers are working on potential treatments and vaccines against COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are around 35 vaccines in development with Moderna's mRNA vaccine already in phase 1 clinical trials, but they remain some way off with symptomatic treatments currently considered the most likely in the short-term.

The University of Queensland is working on a vaccine as part of a collaboration that also involves GSK. The federal and state government have combined with the Paul Ramsay Foundation to invest in its development.

US President Donald Trump used a press conference late last week to talk up the potential of existing therapies, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, and Gilead's remdesivir. The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, was more cautious and noted any evidence of efficacy was anecdotal.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are malaria treatments also used for lupus. Reports of potential efficacy have already led to shortages.

According to The New York Timeshydroxychloroquine is manufactured by Teva, Novartis and Mylan, with all companies increasing productions. They have also committed to donating significant stock of the medicine.

Chloroquine is manufactured by Bayer and US-based Rising Pharmaceuticals. Both said they would increase production and donate supplies.

A brand of chloroquine is registered in Australia, Aspen's CHLORQUIN, and there are several registered brands of hydroxychloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine is also reimbursed via the PBS. 

Gilead is progressing remdesivir, which was initially developed to treat Ebola, and is currently conducting two late-stage clinical trials against COVID-19. The trials were quickly established after an animal trial showed it could improve respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.

The US FDA has not approved either chloroquine or remdesivir for use against COVID-19 but has authorised their 'compassionate use' against the virus. 

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has also teamed up with Vir Biotechnology to develop RNAi therapeutics against COVID-19. Some other therapies considered to have potential are at very early stages of development with the identification of potential antibodies against COVID-19.