Researchers at Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia have launched the AustralaSian Covid-19 trial (ASCOT) to study two existing drugs for treating coronavirus.

The trial is designed to assess the safety and effectiveness of lopinavir/ritonavir and hydroxychloroquine at more than 70 hospitals across the country.

In addition, the ASCOT study will involve 11 hospitals in New Zealand.

In laboratory tests, HIV medication lopinavir/ritonavir, and malaria drug hydroxychloroquine demonstrated the ability to stop SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The ASCOT study will evaluate the ability of these drugs to prevent disease progression to the point when patients would require a ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Royal Melbourne Hospital infectious diseases clinician Steven Tong said: “We have designed the trial so that it’s responsive and adaptive. This means that if one of the drugs is proving to be effective, we can adapt the trial to focus on that treatment. Conversely, if a drug isn’t effective, or is causing severe side effects, we can stop it.

“Having such a coordinated approach nationally and in New Zealand means that not only can many patients participate, but we can also generate the evidence as quickly as possible. Ideally, as other potential treatments become available, these can also be tested within the coordinated framework of ASCOT.”

The trial will randomise patients to receive various treatments and some participants may not receive lopinavir/ritonavir or hydroxychloroquine.

This design is intended to compare the impact of different drugs on Covid-19 patients.

Tong added: “This will allow us to answer whether patients who received a specific drug fare better, worse or the same compared to patients who received a different drug or standard of care.

Additional sites for the ASCOT study are expected to be initiated this week.