The BBC reports that for its Solidarity clinical trial, the WHO tested the effects four potential treatments – The Ebola drug remdesivir; the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, auto-immune drug interferon, and the HIV drug combination of lopinavir and ritonavir.
The four drugs were tested with 11,266 adult patients in total, across 500 hospitals in more than 30 different countries.
The results, which are yet to be peer-reviewed, suggest that none of these treatments has a substantial effect on mortality or on the length of time spent in hospital, the WHO said on Thursday.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday that other trials continued the trials on hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir were stopped in June because they had already proven ineffective.
The WHO's results appear to contradict a previous study conducted by its manufacturer Gilead earlier this month, which concluded that treatment with remdesivir cut Covid recovery time by five days compared to patients given a placebo. About 1,000 patients took part in that trial.
In dismissing the WHO report, Gilead said "We are concerned the data from this open-label global trial has not undergone the rigorous review required to allow for constructive scientific discussion, particularly given the limitations of the trial design."
Prof Martin Landray, who runs the large trial Recovery in the UK, said the results of the trial were "important but sobering" - and added that there were already concerns about the cost and accessibility of remdesivir. "Covid affects millions of people and their families around the world," he added.
"It is not a rare disease. We need scalable, affordable and equitable treatments. The WHO Solidarity trial has done the world a huge favour by producing clear, independent and robust results, showing once more the value of large randomised trials in providing the knowledge we need to tackle the worst consequences of the pandemic."
Remdesivir was given emergency use authorisation in the US from the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 1 May. Later that month it was approved for use in the UK, and has since been authorised for use in several other countries.
Remdesivir has been touted as a potential therapy since the beginning of the pandemic and gained greater attention when it formed part of Donald Trump's cocktail of treatments.
The Jamaican Health Minister says he is awaiting the full publication of the data. He said the ministry has taken note of the WHO's findings. However, he said other studies have different conclusions.
"We will seek clarity from the WHO and those conclusions. There are other studies that have suggested otherwise, and again, it's just part of the complications of another virus where the world is seeking a quick solution, which is why we had said in the first instance we have to be cautious even though many were calling for the use of the drug.
“And even in allowing it, it has to go through a process, which is what we have done and there are processes in administering it. So as of now, we're still proceeding, but we're going to seek some clarity from WHO on this particular study, and at that stage if we need to update the advisory to those who may be interested then we will certainly do so," Tufton observed.
Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health said it would procure supplies of the drug through the National Health Fund for use in public facilities.
The decision followed an appeal from the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica for hospitals to have a regular supply of the drug.
However, the Pharmaceutical Society said in their defence, that "if the drug was being prescribed then it should have been made available to the patient within a time limit so that it could at least have some effect."
Earlier this year, concern was expressed as to why the Jamaican government was by-passing a wide range of anti-covid-19 drugs that were developed by Cuba, and were available for treatment of Jamaicans who had contracted the virus.
Tufton told parliament that he was advised by Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie that an assessment was done, and given that the drug was not approved globally, Jamaica would not use Interferon Alpha 2B at this time.
“I can only go by the advice given to me,” Tufton told parliament colleagues adding: “It is not that we have not looked at it. As you know, we have been collaborating with the Cuban government in several ways and we are very appreciative in terms of the clinical capacity that has been added to our front line against COVID,” Tufton said.
The Cuban drug is credited with preventing thousands of deaths in China and South Korea, while Germany also bought this antiviral from the ChangHeber company to fight the pandemic.
- Countries: Jamaica