From the Journals

Triple-antiviral combo speeds COVID-19 recovery



A triple-antiviral therapy regimen of interferon-beta1, lopinavir/ritonavir, and ribavirin shortened median time to COVID-19 viral negativity by 5 days in a small trial from Hong Kong.

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the United States. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. Courtesy NIAID-RML

In an open-label, randomized phase 2 trial in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 infections, the median time to viral negativity by nasopharyngeal swab was 7 days for 86 patients assigned to receive a 14-day course of lopinavir 400 mg and ritonavir 100 mg every 12 hours, ribavirin 400 mg every 12 hours, and three doses of 8 million international units of interferon beta-1b on alternate days, compared with a median time to negativity of 12 days for patients treated with lopinavir/ritonavir alone (P = .0010), wrote Ivan Fan-Ngai Hung, MD, from Gleaneagles Hospital in Hong Kong, and colleagues.

“Triple-antiviral therapy with interferon beta-1b, lopinavir/ritonavir, and ribavirin were safe and superior to lopinavir/ritonavir alone in shortening virus shedding, alleviating symptoms, and facilitating discharge of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19,” they wrote in a study published online in The Lancet.

Patients who received the combination also had significantly shorter time to complete alleviation of symptoms as assessed by a National Early Warning Score 2 (NEWS2, a system for detecting clinical deterioration in patients with acute illnesses) score of 0 (4 vs. 8 days, respectively; hazard ratio 3.92, P < .0001), and to a Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score of 0 (3 vs. 8 days, HR 1.89, P = .041).

The median hospital stay was 9 days for patients treated with the combination, compared with 14.5 days for controls (HR 2.72, P = .016).

In most patients treated with the combination, SARS-CoV-2 viral load was effectively suppressed in all clinical specimens, including nasopharyngeal swabs, throat and posterior oropharyngeal saliva, and stool.

In addition, serum levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6) – an inflammatory cytokine implicated in the cytokine storm frequently seen in patients with severe COVID-19 infections – were significantly lower on treatment days 2, 6, and 8 in patients treated with the combination, compared with those treated with lopinavir/ritonavir alone.

“Our trial demonstrates that early treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 with a triple combination of antiviral drugs may rapidly suppress the amount of virus in a patient’s body, relieve symptoms, and reduce the risk to health care workers by reducing the duration and quantity of viral shedding (when the virus is detectable and potentially transmissible). Furthermore, the treatment combination appeared safe and well tolerated by patients,” said lead investigator Professor Kwok-Yung Yuen from the University of Hong Kong, in a statement.

“Despite these encouraging findings,” he continued, “we must confirm in larger phase 3 trials that interferon beta-1b alone or in combination with other drugs is effective in patients with more severe illness (in whom the virus has had more time to replicate).”

Plausible rationale

Benjamin Medoff, MD, chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study, said in an interview that the biologic rationale for the combination is plausible.


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