A study into the effectiveness of HIV and anti-malarial drugs in treating the virus that causes Covid-19 has kicked off in Australia, with plans to recruit 2,500 patients in more than 70 hospitals around the country and 11 hospitals in New Zealand.
Led by Melbourne's Doherty Institute, the AustralaSian COVID-19 Trial (ASCOT) is set to include patients in every state and territory.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital is the first site for the clinical trial, headed up by Associate Professor Steven Tong (pictured), an infectious diseases clinician at the hospital and co-lead of clinical research at the Doherty Institute.
Lab tests have shown that lopinavir/ritonavir, which is currently used to treat HIV, and hydroxychloroquine, used to treat arthritis and prevent and treat malaria, can stop the virus SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks.
Associate Professor Tong says while the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers both these drugs to be promising treatments for Covid-19, more research is needed to be sure they are safe and effective in humans.
"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 (ICU)," he says.
"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.
"Having such a coordinated approach nationally and in New Zealand means that not only can many patients participate, but we can also generate the evidence as quickly as possible. Ideally, as other potential treatments become available, these can also be tested within the coordinated framework of ASCOT."
He confirmed as of Thursday, 16 April, patients have been actively screened for recruitment to the trial at The Royal Melbourne Hospital.
"ASCOT is a randomised trial, which means that patients will be randomly allocated to different treatments. As is the nature of a clinical trial, some patients will not receive either drug, which is the current "standard of care" for patients with COVID-19," he says.
"This will 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.
"We plan to have other trial sites up and running later this week across Australia and to significantly contribute to the limited body of knowledge on how to treat COVID-19."
Philanthropy has played a significant role in funding ASCOT with generous commitments from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Foundation, Anthony Pratt and The Pratt Foundation and the Minderoo Foundation.
Key partner organisations involved in ASCOT are the Hunter Medical Research Institute, Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Network and University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research/Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
Updated at 11:59am AEST on 22 April 2020.
Help us deliver quality journalism to you.
As a free and independent news site providing daily updates
during a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses everywhere
we call on your support