Nathan Shapiro, MD (Emergency Medicine, BIDMC) discusses a clinical trial to test a repurposed antiviral AIDS drug for at-home treatment during the first days of COVID-19 symptoms in hopes of slowing the virus early and heading off hospitalization, intensive care, and death.

NBC Rhode Island – November 4, 2020

New research hopes to nip COVID-19 infection in the bud before it progresses

A new research is hoping to nip a COVID-19 infection in the bud before it progresses.

It’s called “TREAT NOW” and it involves an antiviral with a long track record.

“There’s a pattern where patients, for the first week of the disease, will have what seems like the flu — viral syndrome — fever, maybe a cough. And then during the second week of the disease, they either get better, which is obviously what we hope for, or some percentage of patients will actually get worse,” said Dr. Nathan Shapiro, an emergency physician here at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, has seen this first hand.

That’s why he, and two other investigators — friends of his — from hospitals in Colorado (University of Colorado) and Tennessee (Vanderbilt) put their heads together.

“This is actually a little bit of a study that is slightly out of the box,” said Shapiro.

They’re testing a drug combination that’s long been used to treat HIV — lopinavir/ritonavir.

“Part of the reason we selected that agent is because of the extensive experience with it and now what we’re trying to do is repurpose the agent to see if would have a use in COVID-19,” said Shapiro.

The hope is that it stops the progression of the virus when taken within the first week. And most anyone in the U.S. can sign up for the study virtually. First, you have to show proof of diagnosis.

“Patients are consented over the phone, consented electronically, and then we actually overnight mail them the medication,” said Shapiro.

Those who sign up are asked to take the medication for two weeks and they are followed daily. Most common side effects, he said, are gastrointestinal.

They are hoping to enroll 600 patients — half will get the actual medication and the other half a placebo — that way they can verify if it’s making a difference.

This study is being funded by the manufacturers of the antiviral agent: Abbvie.