WUHAN VIRUS/Use of HIV medication to be investigated as coronavirus treatment

Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) will investigate the use of an HIV medication as a treatment for the coronavirus that has been declared a global public heath emergency, according to an institute researcher Tuesday.

John Hsu (???), an investigator with the NHRI's Institute of Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Research, said reports indicate that Kaletra, which is used to treat HIV 1, has shown promising results when used in conjunction with interferons in treating the coronavirus.

The antiretroviral medication is an inhibitor and works by blocking a protease (an enzyme that breaks down proteins) the coronavirus needs to reproduce, he said.

"This is why this virus is evil because it relies on the protease to harm healthy cells," he said. "If we can inhibit this protease, then we have a drug that works."

The original use of Kaletra was to treat HIV, but it has been found to inhibit the protease used by the coronavirus, Hsu said.

"We have some excellent case reports," he said. "Unlike HIV, which is a lifelong condition, coronavirus patients only need to use the drug when they are most ill, and then their immune system will take care of the rest."

Hsu said there are around 10 drugs similar to Kaletra, and his study will see if there is a cocktail therapy that can better treat the coronavirus.

Li Chia wei (???), a professor with National Tsing Hua University's Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, said using medicine that has already been around to treat new diseases will help reduce the time needed to create new drugs.

"A new drug takes some 10 to 20 years and around US$1 billion to US$2 billion to develop," he said.

According to international media, doctors in Thailand, which has 25 confirmed coronavirus cases, have administered Kaletra in conjunction with anti flu medication to some patients and the results have been promising.

The acute respiratory disease was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization on Jan. 31.

Taiwan has confirmed 11 people infected while China has already recorded 20,511 infections and 426 deaths since the virus was first identified, according to official statistics as of Tuesday.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel