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An inexpensive two-drug regimen of sofosbuvir (Sovaldi, Gilead Sciences) plus daclatasvir (Daklinza, Bristol-Myers Squibb) taken for 14 days significantly reduced time to recovery from COVID-19 and improved survival in people hospitalized with severe disease, research from an open-label Iranian study shows.
And the good news is that the treatment combination “already has a well-established safety profile in the treatment of hepatitis C,” said investigator Andrew Hill, PhD, from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.
But although the results look promising, they are preliminary, he cautioned. The combination could follow the path of ritonavir plus lopinavir (Kaletra, AbbVie Pharmaceuticals) or hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil, Sanofi Pharmaceuticals), which showed promise early but did not perform as hoped in large randomized controlled trials.
“We need to remember that conducting research amidst a pandemic with overwhelmed hospitals is a clear challenge, and we cannot be sure of success,” he added.
Three Trials, 176 Patients
Data collected during a four-site trial of the combination treatment in Tehran during an early spike in cases in Iran were presented at the Virtual COVID-19 Conference 2020 by Hannah Wentzel, a masters student in public health at Imperial College London and a member of Hill’s team.
All 66 study participants were diagnosed with moderate to severe COVID-19 and were treated with standard care, which consisted of hydroxychloroquine 200 mg twice daily with or without the combination of lopinavir plus ritonavir 250 mg twice daily.
The 33 patients randomized to the treatment group also received the combination of sofosbuvir plus daclatasvir 460 mg once daily. These patients were slightly younger and more likely to be men than those in the standard-care group, but the differences were not significant.
All participants were treated for 14 days, and then the researchers assessed fever, respiration rate, and blood oxygen saturation.
More patients in the treatment group than in the standard-care group had recovered at 14 days (88% vs 67%), but the difference was not significant.
However, median time to clinical recovery, which took into account death as a competing risk, was significantly faster in the treatment group than in the standard-care group (6 vs 11 days; P = .041).
The researchers then pooled their Tehran data with those from two other trials of the sofosbuvir plus daclatasvir combination conducted in Iran: one in the city of Sari with 48 patients and one in the city of Abadan with 62 patients.
A meta-analysis showed that clinical recovery in 14 days was 14% better in the treatment group than in the control group in the Sari study, 32% better in the Tehran study, and 82% better in the Abadan study. However, in a sensitivity analysis, because “the trial in Abadan was not properly randomized,” only the improvements in the Sari and Tehran studies were significant, Wentzel reported.
The meta-analysis also showed that patients in the treatment groups were 70% more likely than those in the standard-care groups to survive.
However, the treatment regimens in the standard-care groups of the three studies were all different, reflecting evolving national treatment guidelines in Iran at the time. And SARS-CoV-2 viral loads were not measured in any of the trials, so the effects of the different drugs on the virus itself could not be assessed.
Still, overall, “sofosbuvir and daclatasvir is associated with faster discharge from hospital and improved survival,” Wentzel said.
You get tempted to just kind of throw anything at people. And I think we really have to have science to guide us.
These findings are hopeful, “provocative, and encouraging,” said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and he echoed Hill’s call to “get these kinds of studies into randomized controlled trials.”
But he cautioned that more data are needed before the sofosbuvir and daclatasvir combination can be added to the National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines, which clinicians who might be under-resourced and overwhelmed with spikes in COVID-19 cases rely on.
Results from three double-blind randomized controlled trials — one each in Iran, Egypt, and South Africa — with an estimated cumulative enrollment of about 2000 patients, are expected in October, Hill reported.
“Having gone through feeling so desperate to help people and try new things, it’s really important to do these trials,” said Kristen Marks, MD, from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
“You get tempted to just kind of throw anything at people. And I think we really have to have science to guide us,” she told Medscape Medical News.
Virtual COVID-19 Conference 2020: Track B 11125. Presented July 10, 2020.