HIV drug trial in South Australia to find an existing treatment for COVID-19

A drug currently used to treat HIV patients has arrived this week in Australia for use in a national clinical trial to treat COVID-19, thanks to a significant donation from SA’s largest health charity The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF). 

A generic version of the drug Kaletra, sourced from Mylan in India is one of two drugs that has shown promising results in treating COVID-19. 

It will be used in the prestigious Australasian COVID-19 trial (ASCOT)* led by the renowned Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and immunity, a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. 

With the ultimate aim of urgently finding an existing treatment for COVID-19, the trial is planned for over 50 hospitals across Australia. 

THRF CEO Paul Flynn said it was critical to be agile and act quickly to support potentially lifesaving research projects into COVID-19 like the ASCOT trial. 

“We had no hesitation in committing to purchase over $170,000 worth of a generic version of Kaletra to be used nationally in the ASCOT trial,” Paul said. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is fitting with our brand campaign Together. Fight. – we won’t stop until we beat the enemy. 

“We are excited to see the results from the ASCOT trial with a particular interest in the support of the community right here in South Australia.” 

ASCOT Chief Investigator Associate Professor Steven Tong from the Doherty Institute said he was grateful for philanthropy in arming the national team with the essential funds and tools to commence this trial. 

“The aim of this is to try and save the lives of those who are getting sick today or tomorrow.” Dr Tong said. 

“On behalf of the research team involved and healthcare practitioners on the frontline, thank you to The Hospital Research Foundation and its supporters for helping make this trial possible.” 

As a ‘new disease’ there are currently no treatments with established effectiveness for COVID-19. However, there are multiple treatment options, and combinations, that may be effective. 

The goal of the Australasian COVID-19 Trial (ASCOT) is to evaluate the comparative efficacy and safety of different investigational therapeutics in patients hospitalised with moderate severity COVID-19 infections. 

Led by the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s infectious diseases clinician and co-lead of clinical research at the Doherty Institute, Associate Professor Steven Tong, the trial will involve 2500 patients in over 60 hospitals across the country, alongside 12 hospitals in New Zealand. It will recruit patients hospitalised with COVID-19 who do not yet require intensive care support, with the aim of preventing deterioration to the point of needing a ventilator. 

ASCOT will initially test two treatments using drugs that are currently used to treat HIV (lopinavir/ritonavir) and arthritis (hydroxychloroquine). The trial will assess whether it is better to use either drug or in combination. 

The adaptive protocol allows therapies to be discarded and incorporated depending on emerging evidence from outside the trial, and on data accruing within the trial. 

About The Hospital Research Foundation 

The Hospital Research Foundation supports over 50 areas of research and patient care and is fighting for the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ASCOT trial is one of the many projects THRF has pledged its support to since the outbreak in Australia. 

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