KEY POINTS

  • The trial is one of dozens taking place around the world in the race to find an effective treatment for the disease that has killed nearly a half-million people worldwide
  • Half the trials will be conducted by the Mayo Clinic
  • 40 patients will be enrolled in the study, with half receiving the drug combo and the other half, a placebo.

ViralClear Pharmaceuticals on Wednesday opened a phase 2 clinical trial for its antiviral merimepodib to treat COVID-19 in adults, the latest in a series of trials around the world to find a cure for the lung disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The double-blind study will be conducted at three Mayo Clinic facilities – Rochester, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Florida, and Phoenix. Other blind studies will be conducted at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in Texas, and two sites in New Jersey — Atlantic Health System-Overlook Hospital in Summit and Morristown Medical Center.

"This ... study will enroll approximately 40 adult patients with advanced coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19] ... [with] fever, cough, sore throat, malaise, headache, muscle pain, shortness of breath at rest or with exertion, confusion or symptoms of severe lower respiratory symptoms," ViralClear said. Half the subjects will receive a 10-day course of the drugs while the other half will get a placebo.

The placebo-controlled trial will see merimepodib delivered in combination with remdesivir, Gilead’s antiviral that has had only limited success in patients with severe disease but was effective in more than 70% of patients with moderate disease.

ViralClear said merimepodib reduced viral production by more than 90% when combined with remdesivir, reducing it to undetectable levels, in preclinical research at the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The research indicates merimepodib prevents the coronavirus from replicating by suppressing an enzyme it needs to reproduce.

The trial begins one day after British researchers reported the readily available and inexpensive steroid dexamethasone reduced death rates among the sickest COVID-19 patients by 35% and just days after the Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for the anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as ineffective and whose dangers outweigh their benefits.

President Trump had promoted hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer” in fighting COVID-19 and claimed to have swallowed a two-week regimen of the drug after two White House staffers tested positive.

Dozens of other clinical trials are underway around the world, testing everything from antibiotics and vitamin D to newly developed compounds in the race to tame the pandemic, which by late morning Wednesday had infected more than 8.2 million people worldwide, killing more than 444,500. In the U.S., there are more than 2.14 million coronavirus cases and at least 117,030 deaths.