This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory technician holding a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory technician holding a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

A look at promising and overhyped COVID therapies after a tumultuous year of research

Here’s a look at some of the drugs – deemed effective and not – that made headlines in recent months

Alongside the headline-grabbing race for a COVID-19 vaccine, the hunt for effective treatments has unfolded with its own share of flameouts and triumphs.

Thanks to large randomized trials in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, administering steroids to patients with moderate or severe illness has become part of standard care, but clinicians say few other tools have emerged.

The best known COVID-19 drug is likely dexamethasone, a corticosteroid with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects for hospitalized patients who need help breathing.

But while that drug is credited with helping efforts to bring down hospital mortality rates, credit also goes to discoveries about what does not work against the novel coronavirus – thereby ensuring people get appropriate care.

Here’s a look at some of the drugs – deemed effective and not – that made headlines in recent months for fostering hype and hope:

Health-Canada approved

Remdesivir – Sold under the name Veklury, this Gilead Sciences drug was among various treatments given to former U.S. President Donald Trump when he successfully overcame COVID-19 last year. But its ability to cut deaths has since been largely discounted by a World Health Organization trial. An earlier study by Gilead found the drug helped moderately ill patients recover more quickly if given for five days, but that benefit was less clear if given over 10 days.

Health Canada noted clinical trial data was limited when it approved remdesivir for COVID-19 last July but said “given the high unmet medical need and emergency context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada considered the balance of benefit and harm for Veklury to be positive.”

Bamlanivimab – The federal government paid US$32.5 million for 26,000 doses of this monoclonal antibody that targets the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Eli Lilly says an intravenous infusion can ease and prevent COVID-19 symptoms among mild-to-moderate cases in high-risk groups including seniors.

Nevertheless, it has yet to be embraced by clinicians, with Hamilton infectious disease physician Zain Chagla calling it “a good example of a drug that might work on paper but really isn’t a great drug to invest in.”

The associate professor of medicine at McMaster University points to barriers to implementation, which include the staffing and time required to implement the transfusion.

Alberta Health Services says it’s considering a trial to determine “potential for benefit and feasibility of use” while British Columbia said Monday a clinical trial in Surrey would be funded by AbCellera, the Vancouver company which helped discover bamlanivimab.

Cautions against early hype

Hydroxychloroquine – Commonly used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, this drug earned infamy when U.S. President Donald Trump touted its efficacy with COVID-19 before the science was in. Since then, multiple rigorous trials have concluded it offers no benefit to preventing or treating illness while underscoring the dangers of mixing politics and science.

Colchicine –Just last week, the Quebec government cautioned clinicians against embracing this anti-inflammatory as a COVID-19 therapy after the Montreal Heart Institute touted the common gout medication as “a major scientific discovery.” Scientists at the National Institute for Excellence in Health and Social Services acknowledged the institute’s study showed positive results, but said the benefit was too small.

Other contenders

Tocilizumab –Dr. Niall Ferguson, head of critical care at the University Health Network and Sinai Health System, sees potential in early data for tocilizumab, approved for use in Canada to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although evolving data has been mixed and is still emerging, Ferguson notes the monoclonal antibody is already being used off-label for some severe patients.

Heparin – Canadian scientists involved in a global trial for this blood thinner say interim data suggests it can keep some moderately ill COVID-19 patients from deteriorating further. University Health Network scientist Ewan Goligher says the probability of requiring life support dropped by about a third among subjects. He expects the study’s findings to be released soon.

Peginterferon-lambda – Research into this prospective antiviral treatment was recently published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Lead researcher Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at UHN’s Toronto Centre for Liver Disease, says a small Phase 2 trial found it significantly sped recovery for outpatients. Although more research is needed, he suspected it could offer an important way to quickly bring down the virus level in infected patients and reduce their risk of spreading disease to others.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

The Columbia Valley Wetlands are known for their extensive and fragile ecosystem. (File photo)
Wildsight speaks out against logging in Columbia Wetlands

Located 50 kms south of Golden, the proposed operation was justified as bark beetle management

Residents, especially those with yards with long grass and wooded areas, are encouraged to check themselves and their pets for ticks after being outside. Ticks have reportedly been found in Golden near the pump track. File photo
Ticks found in Golden as spring approaches

Between five and 10 people each year go to hospital in Golden for ticks

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A North Okanagan man in his late 20s was flown to hospital by air ambulance Saturday, April 17, shortly after 6:30 p.m. after allegedly crashing on his longboard on a Spallumcheen roadway. (File photo)
Suspected longboard crash in Okanagan sends individual to hospital via air ambulance

Accident involved a North Okanagan man in his late 20s on Otter Lake Road in Spallumcheen

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A Kelowna Pride Festival 2019 participant holds up a flag. (Kelowna Pride Society)
Kelowna Pride, RCMP continue to work on ‘Safe Place Program’

A new committee has been formed to refine the ‘Safe Place Program’ created by the Kelowna RCMP

Coldstream Fire Department crews stationed at Kal Lake Provincial Park parking lot on Cosens Bay Road on Sunday, April 18, after a car went over a cliff in the area. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Driver escapes after car goes over North Okanagan cliff

The driver has been transported to hospital with unspecified injuries

A strange odour at a West Kelowna apartment building prompted the evacuation of 150 residents on Sunday morning, April 18. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Strange smell at West Kelowna apartment prompts evacuation of 150 residents, pets

150 residents ordered evacuated from a West Kelowna apartment building early Sunday morning

Vernon Vipers goalie Roan Clarke celebrates his team’s 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play shootout win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Saturday, April 17, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Vernon Vipers use shootout to subdue Salmon Arm

Snakes score 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play win at Kal Tire Place

This is what’s left of a truck that caught fire at Pyramid Provincial Park off Highway 97 near Summerland Saturday night. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Photo Gallery: Truck gutted by fire at popular Okanagan park, trees saved

Just a metal shell of what once was a pick up truck is left at the scene

Most Read