LONDON: Early-stage trials indicate that a cheap and readily available drug has the potential to make “transformative” changes to COVID-19 mortality rates, according to a leaked presentation by Liverpool University scientists.
Data revealed in the presentation suggested that the drug Ivermectin — normally used to treat lice — could cut deaths in hospitals by as much as 80 percent.
In 11 trials involving more than 1,000 patients, those who received the drug appeared to clear themselves of the virus in about half the usual time.
Trials of another 5,000 patients have yet to report their results, but Dr. Andrew Hill, the researcher at Liverpool University who gave the leaked presentation, said they are expected soon.
He emphasized that his data looked only at the so-called “gold-standard” randomized controlled trials, in which patients were randomly assigned the drug or a placebo.
“The combined data may be large enough to get to World Health Organization recommendations for treatment being used worldwide,” Hill said.
“If we see these same trends consistently across more studies, then this really is going to be a transformative treatment.”
He said the anti-parasitic drug could be a particularly important weapon against COVID-19 in the developing world because of its low cost. “It’s very attractive because it costs between $1 and $2 for a treatment course,” Hill added.
Despite the early positive signs, however, other researchers have urged caution over pre-emptively heralding a wonder treatment.
Other drugs such as hydroxychloroquine have previously been touted as major breakthroughs in COVID-19 treatment, only to underperform in large-scale trials.
Oxford University Prof. Peter Horby said he is worried that the mortality data involved too few cases, and that many of the trials analyzed had not been peer reviewed. The new data, he added, is “interesting, perhaps encouraging, but not yet convincing.”