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Blood plasma and parasite drug: hunt for Covid cure

Among the contenders in the race to beat Covid-19 is a drug traditionally used against parasites such as worms – and the use of blood plasma from recovered patients.

The first idea is being led by MedinCell, a pharma firm based near Montpellier, Hérault.

Plasma trials are being done by AP-HP (Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris), Europe’s largest teaching hospital group.

The well-known safe anti-parasite drug ivermectin was tested in an Australian study.

It found that, after 48 hours in a test tube, it reduced the amount of the virus in a sample by 99.98% - which meant it was essentially killing it.

The finding was of particular interest to MedinCell, which received a €6.4million grant from global health initiative Unitaid to develop an injectable form of the drug for use in preventing the spread of malaria in countries where there is a risk at certain times of year.

MedinCell has a patented system in which a single injection can deliver a product that is released slowly over several months and is fatal to malaria-bearing mosquitoes that bite those injected with it.

The firm says it has now launched research to find an injectable formula of ivermectin with a long-lasting action, which it believes may have a role to play against Covid-19.

It said in a statement that future clinical studies should confirm the action of ivermectin against Covid-19, as well as the potential efficacy of these long-lasting injections in preventing infection with the disease, thus breaking the chain of transmission.

The firm said: “In the case of positive results, injectable ivermectin with long-lasting action would offer an affordable solution, able to be rapidly deployed to face up to a global pandemic.”

At the same time, AP-HP is trialling administering blood plasma – the liquid part of blood in which antibodies are found – from people who have recovered from Covid-19 to patients who are ill in an acute phase.

The trial, in partnership with research body Inserm and French blood authority EFS, is using plasma from 200 people to treat 30 patients, while a control group receives a placebo.

They began on April 7 in Ile-de-France, Grand Est and Bour­gogne-Franche-Comté.

A first evaluation of the results was said to be imminent.

Depending on whether they are encouraging, and assuming there are no harmful side- effects, the study may then be broadened to include more patients, says AP-HP.

AP-HP is one of the biggest players in the fight against Covid-19 in France.

It has several other trials under way, including one into the use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, the drugs being recommended by Prof Didier Raoult in Marseille.

This particular trial is looking to see if this combination can be given to healthcare professionals to prevent them contracting the disease.

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