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UNM Hospital to launch two clinical trials for virus cure

University of New Mexico Hospital, in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal file)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

As novel coronavirus cases climb, the University of New Mexico Hospital announced this week that it will launch two clinical trials in an effort to find a cure.

One of the trials will be for COVID-19 patients with pneumonia symptoms and another trial for patients without those symptoms. The trials are only for patients who are hospitalized with the disease.

Patients at the hospital who have tested positive for the virus with pneumonia symptoms may be offered remdesivir, an antiviral drug created to fight the Ebola and Marburg viruses, said Dr. Richard Larson, the executive vice chancellor at the UNM Health Sciences Center.

UNMH patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 but don’t have pneumonia symptoms also can be part of a clinical trial. In that trial, patients will be treated with a combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic, according to the release.

Neither clinical trial will give patients a placebo, Larson said.

“The way we set up this clinical trial there is not a placebo arm. Some scientists would say that’s not as scientifically rigorous, but we have taken the position on this clinical trial that it’s better to see if it works and compare it to historical outcomes,” he said. “If the drug turns out to be effective we don’t want to force people onto a trial arm where they couldn’t get it.”

Dr. Michelle Harkins, the chief of UNM’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, will be a lead investigator on both studies.

“We are working actively with Gilead (Sciences, Inc., the drug manufacturer) to have this in place by the end of the week,” she said of the remdesivir study. “I have one patient on the drug now and am looking to enroll more.”

Clinical trials using hydroxychloroquine are already underway at the Mayo Clinic, Columbia University and New York University. The drug is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as malaria. Studies have suggested that it might be useful at treating the coronavirus spreading across the world.

More than 160,000 people across the country have tested positive for the coronavirus and nearly 3,000 have died. In New Mexico, there have been 281 positive cases and four deaths attributed to the disease caused by the virus.

There is no known cure for the disease, though for most people the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms and they recover within two to three weeks. Older adults and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk.

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