The rapidity with which normal life has ground to a halt as a result of coronavirus-related edicts has stunned citizens around the world, generating massive social and economic upheaval.
Meanwhile, media coverage of COVID-19 has whipped up unprecedented levels of public anxiety and fear, laying the psychological groundwork for people to eagerly embrace “magic bullet” medical solutions, no matter how experimental.
In the U.S., the World Health Organization (WHO) is now compounding the domestic panic, warning that America could become the new coronavirus “epicenter.”
Across the country, a debate is raging about the nation’s medical response and how best to apportion available resources. Many argue, quite reasonably, for the importance of identifying safe, effective and affordable therapies that can provide immediate help to those who are sick.
On March 22, The New York Times reported that there are at least 69 existing drugs or compounds that might be effective in treating the coronavirus.
In China, researchers are studying intravenous vitamin C as a potential nontoxic treatment, while a paper published by French researchers on March 20 described promising COVID-19 results from the off-label use of hydroxychloroquine (an antimalarial) and azithromycin (an antibiotic).
The head of the French team, Didier Raoult, MD, PhD, is one of the world’s top infectious disease and virology experts, with roughly 2,000 peer-reviewed publications and multiple awards to his name.
Raoult and coauthors point out that a major advantage of “repositioning” older drugs for this coronavirus is that their safety profile, side effects, dosing and drug interactions are already well documented.
However, Ian Lipkin, MD, of Columbia University recently told MSNBC, with a grin, that investments tend to go toward treatments that are “sexy and new and patentable” rather than to “tried-and-true, classical sort of methods repurposing drugs and strategies that have already been shown to work.”
Fauci’s tired rhetoric
For biopharma companies that are poised to profit from COVID-19-related misfortune, older drugs that have outlived their patent terms are not terribly helpful for the bottom line.