By Andreia Verdélio
In the next few days, Brazilian scientists are set to initiate the clinical trials of a medicine that has shown 94 percent of effectiveness in reducing the viral load in cells infected with the novel coronavirus in vitro. According to Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications Marcos Pontes, tests will be conducted on 500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at five hospitals in Rio de Janeiro, one in São Paulo, and one in Brasília.
The drug’s name will be disclosed after the end of the clinical research protocol, when its effectiveness and safety may be fully gauged, “in order to prevent a rash attitude towards the medicine.” However, Pontes said, it is a low-cost, well tolerated drug, also available in pediatric formulations. “Why does it matter? It has few side effects and may be used in a large portion of the population,” he pointed out.
The minister stressed the role of the work of Brazilian scientists in the search for solutions to the pandemic, and reported that tests have been conducted with 2 thousand drugs already traded in drug stores in order to ascertain whether any of them is capable of blocking viral replication. The strategy, known as drug repositioning, has been adopted by scientists at the National Biosciences Laboratory (LNBio), in Campinas, São Paulo. The laboratory is part of the National Center for Research on Energy and Materials (CNPEM), a social organization under the Pontes’s ministry.
Researchers have identified six promising molecules that moved on to the in vitro tests with cells infected with the novel coronavirus. Of these six medicines surveyed, CNPEM scientists found out that two reduced viral replication drastically. The most promising drug showed 94 percent of effectiveness in trials with infected cells.
The protocol for clinical trials of this drug was approved Tuesday (14) by the National Commission of Ethics in Research. The medication will be administered for five days on on patients and a further nine will be necessary for observation. People being admitted to hospital with pneumonia and COVID-19 symptoms—fever, dry cough, the characteristics of ground-glass tomography—will also be surveyed.
The test group will be comprehensive, including anyone aged 18 and above, but no severe cases. Patients must sign an agreement in order to participate in the protocol, which consists in the random administration of the drug or placebo. The study is expected to be over in four weeks. “This is carried out in an extremely scientific manner, so all our doubts can be dispelled,” the minister said.
The study at LNBio is under the ministry’s Virus Network, tasked with the communication between research laboratories and specialists working to further the studies with people infected with COVID-19.
Tests and vaccines
Minister Pontes also unveiled results from CTVacinas, of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, which has also developed a Brazil-made reagent with the same performance as imported COVID-19 diagnosis tests. “This brings autonomy to the country and a chance to boost production of the tests used in Brazil,” he noted.
Another study presented is on a test for detecting the virus with no chemical reagents. “It’s a device that makes the reaction through laser in saliva,” he said. The diagnosis is processed through artificial intelligence and results come out in less than a minute. Its sensor is being developed by the Federal University of Uberlândia, in Minas Gerais.
“If we imagine that all of this works [the drug and the trials], we could have really effective tools to fight this pandemic in Brazil and solve these problems by mid-May.”