China trials anti-HIV drug on coronavirus patients

A drug used to treat people with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, is being trialled in patients in China as a possible therapy against the coronavirus.

News that HIV drugs are being deployed in hospitals, however, has led to panic buying on the black market by people who fear they are ill or are going to get sick. They have been obtaining the drug, Kaletra, from generics companies in India and even from people with HIV in China willing to sell or donate their own stocks.

Kaletra, a combination of two anti-HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, has been used on patients in a trial in China since 18 January. The aim is to test it in about 200 patients, whose condition will be carefully monitored. Their outcomes will be compared with those of similar people with the same degree of illness who have not been given the drug.

There are no proven treatments for the new coronavirus, nor the others that caused the earlier outbreaks of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002 and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in 2012. There are still cases of Mers. In Saudi Arabia, where they are largely concentrated, there is already a trial of Kaletra, combined with another drug, interferon, but because of the small number of Mers cases it will take a long time to come to conclusions.

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