The Israeli Health Ministry is preparing to use a new medication that is still in the research stage and not yet approved as a treatment on patients afflicted with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The unapproved drug is a mix of lopinavir and ritonavir and is manufactured by American biopharmaceutical firm AbbVie. The combination of the two is approved for the treatment of HIV (AIDS) but it is not yet known if the same ratios of the two drugs will be used for the treatment of COVID-19. The HIV medication is marketed and sold under the brand name Kaletra.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved the use of a generic version of the drug to treat coronavirus patients in Israel. He also suggested that the drug chloroquine, normally used to treat malaria victims, be used alone or as a combination with the other drugs.

The current instructions from the Health Ministry to medical staff and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are to stock up in preparation for any surge of COVID-19, but not yet administer the medicines.

Dr. Vered Ezra, the head of the ministry’s medical administration said in a signed document, “Information on possible treatments is now in the process of being created and researched. Organized research and publications are expected to arrive later. However, the Israeli health system must equip itself with medications now in order to treat patients with COVID-19.”

There is currently no approved drug regimen to treat COVID-19 but the Ministry recommended that any treatment of the illness will depend on its severity with individual patients.

Hospitalized patients in good condition will get traditional treatments, but no designated treatments are in place.

Patients showing moderate to severe symptoms will be given the attention of doctors who specialize in infectious diseases. The anti-malarial drug chloroquine is an option because there is some evidence it is effective against the coronavirus.

The most serious cases will need treatment for respiratory failure and other supportive therapy including the drug Remdesivir, another drug normally used as a treatment for Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus infections.

In at least one case in Israel, Remdesivir seemed to yield impressive results on a 38-year-old bus driver whose serious condition improved dramatically after his treatment with the drug.

The document signed by Dr. Ezra emphasized that it was not to be interpreted as approval to immediately use the AbbVie drug. “As of now, there is no established information concerning the various medications, and the initial information for formulating this document has been gathered from a number of sources. This document should not be treated as a Health Ministry recommendation or instruction,” it states.

It remains to be seen if Israel, with about 2,700 confirmed cases and 8 deaths, will begin to use the unapproved drug if other pharmaceuticals and equipment supplies run out or a sense of panic sets in.