Three existing drugs deemed promising in working against the novel coronavirus have entered human trials in China, with some participant patients demonstrating evident improvement, Zhang Xinmin, head of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development, said on Saturday.
Chinese scientists had sifted through 70,000 drugs and chemical compounds during an initial round of screening for promising medications and narrowed their focus down on 5,000 applicants, Zhang said.
Later, 100 drugs were selected for in vitro trials and three drugs that hold great promise - chloroquine diphosphate, favipiravir and remdesivir - are undergoing human trials in the country.
Chloroquine diphosphate, mainly used to prevent or treat malaria, is under trial in more than 10 hospitals in Beijing and Guangdong province, enrolling over 100 patients infected with the novel coronavirus. Trial programs in Hunan province are also in the pipeline, Zhang said.
"The drug is already sold on the market, which validates its safety," he added.
Researchers in Guangdong's Shenzhen city are carrying out human trials using favipiravir, an antiviral drug that inhibits the influenza virus. More than 70 patients have participated in the trial program, including those put on a control group that receives a placebo.
"The drug has shown effective results against the novel coronavirus and led to little to mild adverse reactions in patients," Zhang said. "Three to four days into the trial, the proportion of infected patients who turned negative for the virus is significantly higher for patients administered with the favipiravir than the control group."
Remdesivir, an experimental drug originally created by the American biotechnology company Gilead to test against Ebola, is undergoing clinical trials both in China and overseas, according to Zhang.
"The medication is being trialed in over 10 medical institutions in Wuhan," Zhang said. "The drug has so far displayed adequate inhibitive impact on the virus and is believed to be relatively safe. In the US, a patient has recovered after receiving the treatment." he said.
"The next step is to share outcomes from human trials with front-line medical workers," Zhang added.
Zhou Qi, a senior official with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said despite the urgency and the mounting anticipation for an effective drug to treat the potentially fatal pathogen, Chinese scientists are strictly abiding by the standard procedures of drug development and will not lower standards under the pressure.
"Authorities have already granted all possible green lights to facilitate scientific research, but when it comes to science, there is no murky terrain," he said.
"For instance, before initiating human trials, a large amount of efforts must be devoted to experimenting with animal models. These steps are demanding but indispensable," Zhou said.
He added that scientists will forge ahead to make scientific judgment over promising drugs and dedicate intense efforts to bringing these drugs to clinical settings.