This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory technician holding a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory technician holding a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

A look at promising and overhyped COVID therapies after a tumultuous year of research

Here’s a look at some of the drugs – deemed effective and not – that made headlines in recent months

Alongside the headline-grabbing race for a COVID-19 vaccine, the hunt for effective treatments has unfolded with its own share of flameouts and triumphs.

Thanks to large randomized trials in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, administering steroids to patients with moderate or severe illness has become part of standard care, but clinicians say few other tools have emerged.

The best known COVID-19 drug is likely dexamethasone, a corticosteroid with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects for hospitalized patients who need help breathing.

But while that drug is credited with helping efforts to bring down hospital mortality rates, credit also goes to discoveries about what does not work against the novel coronavirus – thereby ensuring people get appropriate care.

Here’s a look at some of the drugs – deemed effective and not – that made headlines in recent months for fostering hype and hope:

Health-Canada approved

Remdesivir – Sold under the name Veklury, this Gilead Sciences drug was among various treatments given to former U.S. President Donald Trump when he successfully overcame COVID-19 last year. But its ability to cut deaths has since been largely discounted by a World Health Organization trial. An earlier study by Gilead found the drug helped moderately ill patients recover more quickly if given for five days, but that benefit was less clear if given over 10 days.

Health Canada noted clinical trial data was limited when it approved remdesivir for COVID-19 last July but said “given the high unmet medical need and emergency context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada considered the balance of benefit and harm for Veklury to be positive.”

Bamlanivimab – The federal government paid US$32.5 million for 26,000 doses of this monoclonal antibody that targets the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Eli Lilly says an intravenous infusion can ease and prevent COVID-19 symptoms among mild-to-moderate cases in high-risk groups including seniors.

Nevertheless, it has yet to be embraced by clinicians, with Hamilton infectious disease physician Zain Chagla calling it “a good example of a drug that might work on paper but really isn’t a great drug to invest in.”

The associate professor of medicine at McMaster University points to barriers to implementation, which include the staffing and time required to implement the transfusion.

Alberta Health Services says it’s considering a trial to determine “potential for benefit and feasibility of use” while British Columbia said Monday a clinical trial in Surrey would be funded by AbCellera, the Vancouver company which helped discover bamlanivimab.

Cautions against early hype

Hydroxychloroquine – Commonly used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, this drug earned infamy when U.S. President Donald Trump touted its efficacy with COVID-19 before the science was in. Since then, multiple rigorous trials have concluded it offers no benefit to preventing or treating illness while underscoring the dangers of mixing politics and science.

Colchicine –Just last week, the Quebec government cautioned clinicians against embracing this anti-inflammatory as a COVID-19 therapy after the Montreal Heart Institute touted the common gout medication as “a major scientific discovery.” Scientists at the National Institute for Excellence in Health and Social Services acknowledged the institute’s study showed positive results, but said the benefit was too small.

Other contenders

Tocilizumab –Dr. Niall Ferguson, head of critical care at the University Health Network and Sinai Health System, sees potential in early data for tocilizumab, approved for use in Canada to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although evolving data has been mixed and is still emerging, Ferguson notes the monoclonal antibody is already being used off-label for some severe patients.

Heparin – Canadian scientists involved in a global trial for this blood thinner say interim data suggests it can keep some moderately ill COVID-19 patients from deteriorating further. University Health Network scientist Ewan Goligher says the probability of requiring life support dropped by about a third among subjects. He expects the study’s findings to be released soon.

Peginterferon-lambda – Research into this prospective antiviral treatment was recently published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Lead researcher Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at UHN’s Toronto Centre for Liver Disease, says a small Phase 2 trial found it significantly sped recovery for outpatients. Although more research is needed, he suspected it could offer an important way to quickly bring down the virus level in infected patients and reduce their risk of spreading disease to others.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Brendan Martin is on a hunger strike to raise awareness of fighter jets being purchased by the Canadian government. (Special to Black Press Media/Canadian Press)
Langley physician on two-week hunger strike to protest Canadian fighter jet purchase

No Fighter Jets Coalition member Dr. Brendan Martin last ate on April 10

The Langley Seniors Resource Centre has a tax clinic that wraps up April 30, 2021. (LSRC grpahic)
Seniors centre offers tax clinics and men’s sexuality group has online support meeting

Most in-person events remain on hold but here’s information on two events

.
LETTER: Langley student spills about the link between milk and climate change

Grade 7 students at Gordon Greenwood Elementary were tasked with writing about climate change.

.
LETTER: Langley student delves into climate change and the impact on storms

Grade 7 students at Gordon Greenwood Elementary were tasked with writing about climate change.

The Giants play at Prospera Place in Kelowna Wednesday night against Victoria, then are back on the same ice again Saturday to take on the Rockets. They defeated Prince George Monday, 2-1 in Kamloops. (Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Giants climb to top with 11 games remaining

Vancouver G-Men play again Wednesday, hoping to take down Victoria for a fourth time this season

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson leaves the assembly with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Paid sick leave for ‘hard-hit’ workers left out of provincial budget: BCGEU

‘For recovery to be equitable it requires supports for workers, not just business,’ says union president Laird Cronk

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Most Read