Australian and New Zealand hospitals to trial coronavirus treatment

Dozens of hospitals in Australia and New Zealand will trial a HIV treatment and an anti-malarial touted by US President Donald Trump on patients infected with Covid-19.

The AustralaSian Covid-19 Trial (ASCOT) has begun treating patients infected with the virus at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, ASCOT leader Stephen Tong from the RMH and Doherty Institute told reporters.

The trial plans to recruit about 2,000 patients from more than 70 Australian hospitals and from 12 hospitals in New Zealand, prof Tong said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

The trial will test Lopinavir/ritonavir, which is currently authorised in the UK as an anti-HIV medicine, as well as hydroxychloroquine, also approved at a national level to treat malaria and certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Mr Trump has toned down his support in the last week for hydroxychloroquine, after repeatedly calling it a “miracle” drug and suggesting it be used for coronavirus.

Both drugs are being tested elsewhere, including by the World Health Organisation, with Prof Tong saying the ASCOT trial will benefit from a coordinated response between hospitals across two countries.

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 20, 2020
Coronavirus – Mon Apr 20, 2020

He said in a statement: “The aim of ASCOT is to test whether using these drugs will prevent patients deteriorating to the point of needing a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

“We have designed the trial so that it’s responsive and adaptive. This means that if one of the drugs is proving to be effective, we can adapt the trial to focus on that treatment.

“Conversely, if a drug isn’t effective, or is causing severe side effects, we can stop it.”

Some patients will not receive either drug, due to the trial using random allocations of treatments.

Prof Tong said that would “allow us to answer whether patients who received a specific drug fare better, worse or the same compared to patients who received a different drug or standard of care”.

The phase one trial is expected to run for between 12 and 18 months.

Phase two trials can run for two or more years and phase three can last three to five years.

The trial is being largely funded by mining billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation and paper magnate Anthony Pratt.