SINGAPORE: A "small number" of coronavirus patients in Singapore are being treated with HIV drugs, the Ministry of Health's (MOH) chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan said on Tuesday (Feb 4).
"In a small number of cases some of the HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir have been used here," said Prof Tan at a press conference.
"The trials are being done in China and other places, but they're being used here. We need to see the results of the trials to see how effective they are, but the results so far from other studies have looked quite promising."
He said the results of the clinical trials "should be out, we hope, in the weeks ahead".
Doctors in Thailand, where there are more than two dozen cases, said on Sunday they have seen success in treating severe cases of the coronavirus with a combination of medications for flu and HIV.
The Thai doctors said the treatment had improved the condition of several patients under their care, including a 70-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan.
The treatment includes a mixture of the HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir, in combination with flu drug Oseltamivir in large doses, they added.
Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Prof Tan said clinical trials would be “much easier” in a place with more patients, like Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re waiting to see how it proceeds and we hope in the weeks ahead we'll have some indication," Prof Tan said.
“In the meantime, I mean, amongst the different drugs that have been tested in the past, these agents appear to be effective, but we can’t be certain at the moment. They appear promising. I think the trials will help us understand, whether or not, how effective it will be,” he added.
Prof Tan noted that when the first case of the coronavirus was detected in Singapore, a diagnostic kit was ready due to the efforts of scientists and researchers in the background.
“That’s because we’re able, really, to take the sequences that have been published, and to create rapid diagnostic kits, and to rapidly scale up the numbers so that we are able to diagnose the cases early,” he said.
This is “quite different” from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, when there were no diagnostic kits for the first five weeks, which made containment efforts "much more difficult", Prof Tan added.
Singapore confirmed on Tuesday its first locally transmitted cases of the novel coronavirus, among six new cases of the virus.
One patient was a tourist guide for a group of Chinese tourists, two work at a shop the group had visited, while a fourth case of local transmission was the domestic helper of one of the cases, said MOH at a briefing.