China is testing anti-Ebola drugs to fight the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), which has so far claimed over 1,300 lives, Anadolu Agency has learned.
David SC Hui, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said more than 100 people are being treated with the drug.
“Clinical trials of remdesivir started in the Chinese city of Wuhan [epicenter of the outbreak] a few days ago, and more than 100 patients have been recruited,” Hui told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview on the phone from Geneva, where he is attending meetings of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the outbreak of the deadly disease, officially known as COVID-19.
Hui has also served as adviser to the WHO since the 2003 SARS outbreak in China.
Since last December, at least 1,380 people have died in China, and 63,900 others have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, which is said to have been transmitted to humans from animals, particularly bats.
While hundreds have been infected across the globe, three deaths have been reported from outside the mainland – one each in Hong Kong, Philippines and Japan.
Like the coronavirus, Ebola is also a notoriously deadly virus that has killed thousands since its outbreak in 2014, mostly in West Africa. It has caused major loss of life and socioeconomic disruption in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, among other regions.
Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine developed by American pharmaceutical giant Gilead, was used to treat Ebola-affected patients. It was tested without ill effects in Ebola patients. Ebola is from a different family of coronaviruses and causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop, leading to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.
Hui said remdesivir has “shown good activity” after initial trails.
“Remdesivir was designed to treat Ebola patients in Africa. Now 100 patients have been given remdesivir, but it needs longer follow-up,” he said.
The antiviral drug was used by doctors in the U.S. to treat the first coronavirus patient in the country in the last week of January after his condition worsened.
“Earlier, anti-HIV drugs were used to treat COVID-19, but remdesivir offers hope that [patients] should feel better now,” Hui said.
“The [remdesivir] drug company has provided drugs to China free of charge.”
Hui, who is also Stanley Ho professor of respiratory medicine, said China is badly affected by the virus.
“Hospitals in Wuhan are overwhelmed…very, very busy,” he said.
Wuhan, the capital of China's central Hubei province, is under strict lockdown and businesses have been shut down for over a month now.
- WHO team in Beijing
Hui said the WHO has sent three of its representatives to China to assist the country in fighting the spread of the disease.
“The WHO team is already in China and they will assess the situation, look at the statistics [of affected people], and then bring together a team of experts to help China manage the virus,” he said, adding that the constantly growing patient numbers is worrying.
The WHO has declared the outbreak an international health emergency.
China built two hospitals in Wuhan in a record 10-days’ time to fight the disease and treat patients.
Beijing has already deployed some 4,000 personnel, including medical staff from its armed forces, in Hubei, and is sending 2,600 additional workforce to help medical teams fight the epidemic.
The spread of the virus to more than 20 other countries, including the U.S., U.K., Singapore, France, Russia, Spain and India, has caused global panic.
Many countries, including Turkey, have evacuated their citizens from affected areas of China, placing them in quarantined medical care.