Key China coronavirus hospital says HIV drug beneficial to patients

Chinese doctors at the primary hospital treating severe coronavirus patients in the city of Wuhan said they have been using the HIV drug Kaletra since January and believe it is beneficial, despite a previous study that it was ineffective.

They have been prescribing Kaletra, an off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir produced by AbbVie, as well as a second drug, bismuth potassium citrate, said Zhang Dingyu, the president of the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, where the disease originated late last year.

“We believe taking this drug is beneficial,” Zhang told reporters on Thursday in reference to Kaletra.

He said doctors at Jinyintan had started prescribing the drug to their patients on Jan. 6. It was one of the first hospitals to start treating infections after the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in December.

At the height of the epidemic in the city, Jinyintan was treating close to 500 coronavirus patients, he said. It currently still has 123 under observation, he said.

A study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, based on a test in Chinese patients with severe COVID-19 at Jinyintan, said that Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, was not effective as a potential treatment.

Last month, Israel approved the licensing of a generic version of Kaletra to treat patients infected with the coronavirus.

Zhang said the data set used by the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine had included patients who had not taken the drug before passing away, and others whose doctors had decided against prescribing it.

“You have to look at the supplementary material,” he said.

He said three medical workers had started taking Kaletra 2-3 days after symptoms of the virus surfaced. “Towards the end of taking the drug, the changes their lungs experienced were really great.”

Doctors in Shanghai also prescribed Kaletra, in combination with the flu drug arbidol and traditional Chinese medicine, and said some patients showed positive improvements, according to a study published by the BioScience Trends journal in February.

Kaletra was also associated with positive therapeutic outcomes in the treatment of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to previous studies.