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Antiviral cocktail a possible cure for novel coronavirus

Bangkok

A COCKTAIL of antiviral drugs appeared effective in treating a seriously ill patient infected with the novel coronavirus spreading around the world, a Thai health official said.

The HIV medicines lopinavir and ritonavir, sold by AbbVie as Kaletra, was used on three patients along with the anti-flu medication oseltamivir, sold by Roche and Chugai Pharmaceutical as Tamiflu, Somkiat Lalitwongsa, director of the Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok, told reporters Monday.

Kaletra is already being studied in a randomised, controlled trial - the gold standard for testing new medical products - in coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. The Thai doctors administered the flu drug because of research indicating that it helped some patients afflicted with a more deadly coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers). A study by researchers in France recommended it be used in patients with Mers, but discontinued if tests show they don't have flu.

"There's not enough evidence to support the effectiveness just yet," Mr Somkiat said. "But we report to contribute to the medical community globally. The results look good so far."

Of three patients in Thailand on whom the unique three-drug therapy was initiated, two are continuing to receive the medications, he said. Treatment was discontinued in one patient who developed a rash. One of the two continuing to receive the medicines has tested negative for the Wuhan coronavirus, he added.

"Because there's no standard procedure yet, we're trying new combinations of drugs," he said.

No drugs, including Tamiflu, have been approved to treat coronaviruses, and Tamiflu is aimed specifically at flu viruses, according to Roche. Neither Tamiflu nor Xofluza, another Roche flu drug, are likely to be effective at treating the coronavirus, the company said in a statement. Roche is committed to supporting the World Health Organization and other groups with expertise and advice on the coronavirus and pandemic prevention, the statement said.

Thailand has 19 confirmed cases of the virus, also called 2019-nCoV. Eleven patients are hospitalised and the rest have returned home. Another 311 people are being monitored for possible infection in hospitals as of Sunday, according to a health ministry statement.

Thailand will repatriate more than 100 people from Wuhan on Feb 4 after they pass medical screening in China, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul said on Sunday. BLOOMBERG