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Triple-drug treatment shows promise in Hong Kong study

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Therapy combining three antiviral drugs is safer and more effective than single-drug treatments in reducing the viral load in less severe Covid-19 patients, a small trial undertaken by the University of Hong Kong has discovered.

The study, published in The Lancet on Saturday, comprised 127 adults with mild-to-moderate symptoms of Covid-19.

The team found that using the three drugs — lopinavir-ritonavir, an anti-HIV therapy; ribavirin, a hepatitis C treatment; and interferon beta-1b, developed to combat multiple sclerosis — halved the time needed to completely alleviate symptoms and meant a shorter stay in hospital.

Patients receiving the drug combination had no virus in their bodies within an average of seven days, compared with 12 days for those given 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 healthcare workers by reducing the duration and quantity of viral shedding when the virus is detectable and potentially transmissible,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, who led the research.

“Furthermore, the treatment combination appeared safe and well tolerated by patients,” added Prof Yuen, who is the chair of infectious diseases at HKU’s Department of Microbiology.

Sarah Shalhoub from Western University in Canada, who was not involved in the HKU research, said: “This study presents a step towards finding a much-needed therapy” for Covid-19.

However, she urged further study of the “efficacy of interferon beta-1b alone or in combination with other drugs to treat severe or critically ill patients”.

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