Early data from a small trial conducted by the University of Hong Kong has demonstrated promise for the Covid-19 treatment with a combination of HIV medicine lopinavir–ritonavir, hepatitis drug ribavirin, and multiple sclerosis therapy interferon beta.

The Phase II trial involved 127 patients with mild to moderate symptoms, but not those with severe Covid-19.

Published in the Lancet journal, the trial findings revealed that patients treated with the triple drug combination tested negative for the virus five days earlier than those treated with lopinavir–ritonavir alone at seven days and 12 days respectively.

Secondary outcomes in the trial showed that clinical improvement and length of hospital stay may be significantly shorter with the triple combination, less than seven days after initial symptoms, versus the HIV medication alone.

University of Hong Kong professor Kwok-Yung Yuen said: “Our trial demonstrates that early treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 with a triple combination of antiviral drugs may rapidly suppress the amount of virus in a patient’s body, relieve symptoms, and reduce the risk to health-care workers by reducing the duration and quantity of viral shedding (when the virus is detectable and potentially transmissible).

“Furthermore, the treatment combination appeared safe and well tolerated by patients. Despite these encouraging findings, we must confirm in larger Phase III trials that interferon beta-1b alone or in combination with other drugs is effective in patients with more severe illness (in whom the virus has had more time to replicate).”

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All participants were given standard hospital care during the trial, including ventilation support, dialysis support, antibiotics, and corticosteroids.

Kowk-Yung Yuen added that the findings were ‘encouraging’, but the triple drug combination’s effect must be assessed in larger patient population and in those with severe Covid-19.